Friday, March 30, 2012

A Love-Disgust with Starbucks

As a Seattleite, I proudly show my tourist friends the first Starbucks coffee store, located in Pike Place Market. Usually there's a fabulous a Capella quartet in front, swinging with their excellently-blended harmonies.

My photo of singers outside the first Starbucks, Pike Place Mkt.

Purchasing my favorite excellently-blended grande Americano inside, however, isn't such an easy question anymore.  Oh yeah, I've got my special registered Hawaii-design Starbucks card, loaded so I earn their rewards.  But I'm getting word from the right and the left that perhaps using it at the coffee stand ubiquitous on nearly every corner might carry some not-so-approved connotations.

Cochineal beetle pieces. MMMM-mmmm!
I wasn't one to order the Strawberries-and-Creme Frappuccinos anyway, knowing they didn't have kosher approval.  But now I know why: It's revealed that the red coloring Starbucks adopted a couple years ago to align with their "natural ingredients" push is actually crushed up bugs. The Cochineal Extract from ground South American beetles is definitely not kosher. It's not vegetarian, either, and aside from an occasional kosher meat digression (Passover's coming!), our family refrains from eating slaughtered flesh. But crushed insects, added for their crimson color, doesn't comport with the system. Perhaps using strawberries to shade the Strawberries-and-Creme could have been even more natural.

Then I got an email saying Starbucks is pouring millions of dollars into the initiative to redefine marriage, on the ballot here in Washington State this November.  I happen to hold with the traditional Torah view that the entire purpose of marriage is to synchronize the complementary differences between male and female, and to best encourage that each child can be raised by his biological mother and father together.  Love's a crazy-wonderful thing, and if two men or women want to affirm their commitment and spend their lives together, great; I just don't think government should shift the focus of the institution from children-with-parents societal stability to elevating individuals' feelings.  If men and women are truly interchangeable, as re-defining marriage suggests, then family law can no longer privilege biological connection over emotional claims on a child.  The overwhelming data showing children do best when raised by their two biological parents won't mean much in practice after that.

I'm not into boycotts, but it seems that vegans, vegetarians, foes of advertising deception and traditional marriage boosters are coming together in a moment of joint Starbucks wrath.  Perhaps to counter this, I just got an email from the company inviting me to a local benefit concert featuring two indie bands. Sounds like fun. Too bad it's on Shabbat.

 Strawberries-&-Creme ingredients: not kosher
We happen to be fans of Starbucks. Not only is it a local company, but we like their coffee. My husband even drinks their Via instant when he wakes up pre-dawn some mornings. I choose their specially-roasted-for-Costco espresso-blend beans. I trust there are no ground bugs in either. I also like their coffee-houses, and our neighborhood outpost is even decorated with original artwork by a friend of mine. It's cozy to sit near their fireplace, using their free internet service, sipping their java.

So I'm hoping that once again, Starbucks will choose to placate all and regain its position as favored caffeine station. To paraphrase Kermit, it's not easy vending bean, and it's reassuring that the marketplace is a reliable source of feedback for businesses.  I like to see retailers do well, and I'm eager to once again proudly take my politically correct friends to that first Pike Place landmark.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Your Most Personal Information--Exposed and Exploited

Gilad Elbaz, from NYT article
Gilad Elbaz, who is collecting every true piece of data that exists, has a disturbing proposition: "'Lately I've been thinking that we need to get more personal data,' Mr. Elbaz says.  He doesn't mean names and addresses, but their genetic information, what they ate, when and where they exercised--ideally for everyone on the planet, now and forever."

A New York Times business section article today profiles  the genius-entrepreneur founder of Factual, a Los Angeles company organizing everything from Yelp restaurant reviews to all the wine grape varietals.
If you knew that someone could extract from The Cloud the fact that you snuck in a couple of Winchell's chocolate eclairs on your way home from work, would you still do it?  If your health insurance provider--and Barack Obama would have that be the Federal Government--knew that you hardly ever used that gym membership they subsidized, would you be inclined to go more often?

Or would you figure that you're just numbers to them--a sheet of genetic information--so nobody really cares?  Is it time we give up all pretense of privacy, and just assume our most personal habits are exposed? Factual already has in its collection the body masses of celebrities, and it's working toward including yours. Think you'll be able to opt out when the Big Computer has already obtained your birth, schooling and work information from hospitals, educational institutions and industries?

Nineteen Eighty Four was twenty-eight years ago. We're way past that, or perhaps actually into that, where government and business merge for their individual benefits. "Factual's to build the world's chief reference point for thousands of interconnected supercomputing clouds," writes Quentin Hardy. "The digital world is expected to hold a collective 2.7 zettabytes of data by year end, an amount roughly equivalent to 700 billion DVDs."  Ordinary people, says the article, could tap into all this through "data marts." Ultimately, combining all the information allows discerning patterns "in nature and society, for scientists to observe, and businesses to exploit."

It's happening now. How do you think those ads on the edge of your Facebook page are chosen?  Search and ye shall be found, and tailored ads will be thrust before your eyes. It won't be long before a company like Factual links your Facebook profile to your gym attendance or purchase of running shoes on your credit card.

Which could actually be a good thing, if it deters bad behavior.  Imagine if your phone's locator lets your spouse know you're at a motel at lunchtime, or a strange residential address at 4 pm?  Imagine if your BMI is available to your employer, or your purchase of cigars or botox is searchable.  Aggregating data for research purposes quickly devolves to less noble uses.  But your personal life as billboard also can instill the fear of God. And others.

I find it creepy, but my reaction is irrelevant given the reality that The Cloud can even now rain drops of data everywhere. I also find it deleterious that somebody might revise what he eats based on knowing his choice is entering his data file.  It seems that more and more influences are making our behavior a response to who we're impressing rather than trusting over-arching values and, in the case of food, what we really want to eat.

Perhaps once we relax about the fact that our lives are bits of information to someone else, we can get over the belief that we're individually special.  We resist entities knowing our intimate lives because we care about them so much. But these organizations have the same data on everybody else, and generally they really don't have the interest to pick you out for anything more than to sell you something.  It's true that being bombarded with advertising is annoying and intrusive, but that's the world we're approaching or, if you have a smart phone, enduring.

I think of just 150 years ago, in the industrializing United States, where people communicated by hand-written letters that took days to arrive. The phone allowed instant interchange, and then email brought so many more people close, enabling immediate contact, free and easy. Now we're crowded even closer, with Facebook and Twitter allowing people from elementary school through mildest acquaintances through simply fame to know inner thoughts as they occur.  We're jamming together, and years' past fears of overpopulation have receded to be replaced with virtual claustrophobia no matter where we choose to run.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Call a Bum "Feckless" Today

When you meet able-bodied guys not eager to work, demographer Charles Murray has a  culture-saving suggestion: "Don't call them 'demoralized.' Call them whatever derogatory word you prefer." His choice: "Feckless."

Feckless, aside from sounding appropriately snide, means men, who before would have supported families with honest, working-class employment, instead withdraw from the job market and bum around.  They're now affectionately called "slackers" and star in movies, like the current "Jeff, Who Lives at Home."

My husband liked "Jeff," but I had a harsher view.  This is a guy Charles Murray would scorn. He's chosen to live in his mom's basement, interpreting natural and accidental phenomena in his environment as "signs" pointing his direction.  He has no initiative, other than to wander after guideposts as wild as a wrong number phone call, a name on a delivery truck, and the basketball jersey on a punk in a bad neighborhood.
Jason Segel plays "Jeff, Who Lives at Home"

Jeff needed Charles Murray to chastise his passive dependence and become useful. Actually, that's what Charles Murray wants us all to do--vocalize and popularize the value that "one of life's central moral obligations is to be a productive adult." We need to get judgmental, and I say we need to resurrect shame as an appropriate emotion.

Murray just wrote a fascinating book about the growing economic (and cultural) divide between lower and achieving classes among white Americans. He took some flack for dismissing the economy as the cause for this schism, and in his Wall Street Journal article from a few days ago explains himself: Working class men aren't just suffering with everyone else through the downturn--disproportionately, they've opted out completely.

Wages for the same working-class jobs that supported families in 1960 haven't dropped; to the contrary, the "mean annual earnings of white males ages 30-49 who were in working class occupations," rose three thousand dollars, adjusted for inflation. The same jobs that in 1960 earned $33,302 in 2010 brought an average of $36,966.

"This (increase in salary) occurred despite the decline of private-sector unions, globalization, and all the other changes in the labor market," Murray notes, and "doesn't include additional income from the Earned Income Tax Credit."

That inflation-adjusted $33,300 was considered a "family wage" back in 1960, when 84% of men in that age group were married, and women were only a third of the labor force. Since then, women's labor force participation has doubled, and their opportunities as well as education levels have soared. Men who hold working-class jobs, Charles Murray suggests, aren't so desirable as husbands any more, and so the percentage of them who were married in 2010 plummeted down to only 48%.

Let's see: You're over 30 and not married, unneeded by women, prospects for advancement marginal..why not just coast and take advantage of all those government "safety nets" that will carry you through? And indeed, in 1965, just 3% of 30-49-year-old men with no more than a high-school diploma were "no longer in the work force." In 2010, almost 12% had dropped out.

We can't return to a time when limited employment options for women forced them to depend on men any more than we can go back to one-car families and one-phone households. Lifestyles have evolved, and I'm glad women now have opportunities to fulfill their potentials (I remember as a child considering the only career options for females: librarian, teacher, nurse or social worker. I chose teacher.)  But the cost has been to usurp men's respected roles in so many fields, leaving those disinclined toward academia at the bottom of the heap. That may explain why so many men are withdrawing--they feel impotent, thwarted and feckless.

The error is in responding with a "poor baby" instead of an expectation to try harder. You don't need a college degree to be a successful entrepreneur, but you do need drive, industry and determination.  The new class divide is between those who thrive on challenge, and those who in the same circumstances recede.

When I was a kid, the guys sleeping on the park benches were called "bums." As "One Finger Ellis" scribbled in 1897 on his Kansas City prison cell wall, bums were averse to work, but in those days mores forced them into the crevices of society: "Oh why don't you work like other men do? How the hell can I work when the skies are so blue?  Hallelujah I'm a bum, Hallelujah bum again, Hallelujah give us a handout to revive us again!"

Bums were reviled. Mothers would point them out to their kids and say, "if you don't do your homework, you'll end up like that man!" I remember my dad saying that to me.  Such an attitude is now considered heartless and cruel, but it used to be effective in motivating children and deterring the lazy from succumbing to their weaknesses. That attitude also moved "decent people" to take responsibility for their brethren who really needed help. Vagrancy laws upheld the norm of public decorum.

Charles Murray suggests we again make judgments about behaviors useful for individuals and society, and label "reasonably healthy working-age males who aren't working or even looking for work, who live off their girlfriends, families or the state...lazy, irresponsible and unmanly. Whatever their social class, they are, for want of a better word, bums."

Charles Murray authored Coming Apart
He not only recommends rebuking these guys, but praising their tenacious counterparts: "Start treating the men who aren't feckless with respect. Recognize that the guy who works on your lawn every week is morally superior in this regard to your neighbor's college-educated son who won't take a 'demeaning' job. Be willing to say so."

That's not what I'm hearing from critics reviewing "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." The movie validates the slacker, and, (spoiler alert!) suggests his meandering, lethargic life is what ultimately makes him a hero. Wrong. We need to re-establish the value--the necessity!--of hard work.  We shouldn't punish the people whose efforts pay off by taxing their income at ridiculously higher percentages than their peers who haven't attained that level, and we need to call able people who rely on others or "entitlements" what they really are: feckless drains on us all.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fat Fashion Models Defined: 36.2-inch hips

Dutch fashion model Anandon Marchildon won her lawsuit against a modeling agency who dismissed her, saying her 36.25-inch derriere was two centimeters larger than they say it had been before, making her unsuitable for work.  The case really wasn't about her expanded girth but about whether the company, which had taken over another agency, was obligated to retain the other agency's contracts.  After two years of litigation, during which time Ms. Marchildon took up work as a cabinet-maker, Netherlands courts decided yes, the new agency should have kept her.

The case, however, elicits ire because it raises the question, "Who you callin' FAT?"  The five-foot-eleven-inch 25-year-old, as winner of the fourth round of Holland's Next Top Model, had been guaranteed a three-year, $98,000 contract, but was axed after she'd earned only about $13,000, when the Modelmasters agency was bought out by another, Elite Model Management.

According to an email exchange made public, she'd tried to work with the new agency over several months to diet down her hip size. She apparently succeeded in June, 2010, according to the Associated Press, but by September she and Elite had "parted ways." Just to demonstrate her talents, Ms. Marchildon did a one-time Sloggi lingerie modeling gig, and a company spokeswoman said "It's too crazy for words that a model who's her size would be written off as too fat."

Rising to her new status as crusader, Marchildon responded to her court victory saying, "I'm proud to be a good role model, that's how I see it, for young girls. If you can't be a model for high fashion, you're still beautiful."

Absolutely. But in her shape, Ms. Marchildon offers a nearly-impossible ideal for most.  Certainly she is far from fat, but given that about 30% of American adolescents are overweight or obese, her figure in the Sloggi ads can't count as encouraging. In fact, it could well be disheartening: If her hips are too wide, most women have no hope at all.

I can't resist reference to my current book project, Eat What You Want. Researchers are stymied in finding a real cause for the 20-year jump in obesity rates (that has leveled in the past decade), and until they can sort out why some get fat and others don't, the most sane approach is to eat only when hungry, enjoy one's food but stop eating when satisfied. Cyclical dieting means ongoing stress and usually a higher "normal" weight; even reasonable eaters (and research has shown little difference in consumption between the overweight and those of "healthy" BMI) now seem to be heftier than in generations past.

So indignation over Ms. Marchildon's extra inch means little for the millions who are far from a model's silhouette.  A serious question is whether a chunky norm should be accepted and even lauded, since "overweight," according to Paul Campos, is associated with best overall health; only extreme obesity, as extreme thinness, brings real risks.

And, there's also the question, equally legitimate, about whether an agency can require those it represents to maintain a standard relevant to its business.  I wouldn't be so quick to tell modeling agencies how to cater to their clients, especially if the models they represent agree to their rules when they sign up.  At the same time, I do think that particular occupation leads women--and our culture--toward destructive behaviors, self-hatred and emphasis on the superficial.  But can we restrict or outlaw all the negatives in society?

Bottom line--no pun intended--is that Ms. Marchildon put herself forward into a competitive business well-known for its insistence on thinness. She competed on TV for her entry into that contorted world, and then, when it turned against her, she railed at its injustice. I don't blame her for seeking legal means to the prize she thought she'd won.  But I don't think it's time to claim a triumph for larger women everywhere, as this story is slanted. More significant triumphs occur every time teens look in the mirror and see their potentials instead of their sizes.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Healthy Eating, ca 1971--on the cheap

I was cleaning out old cookbooks and found amongst them a mint-condition September, 1971 issue of the magazine "Family Circle." Its "Annual Budget Food Issue: 200 delectable ways to save money on meals" was the draw, including a cover story on "Family-pleasing main dishes from 11 cents to 59 cents per serving."  (I was just reminded that keyboards no longer have the "cents" sign; the headline had used it.)

Published about a decade before obesity rates began their precipitous climb, the issue did contain a fold-out "Good nutrition for Good Health" section listing food groups, with calorie, vitamin, fatty acids and carbohydrates counts of specific entries, for home cooks to "clip and save! Use every shopping day!"  We were told adults needed 2 servings from the "meat group," two cups from the dairy group, 4 cups from the fruits and veggies group and 4 servings from breads and cereals, every 24-hours.  In fact, nearly every ad for comestibles contained the 4-petaled food groups symbol with the slogan "Eat the basic 4 foods every day."

Lucky for us, we could use the magazine's recipes to provide all this for just $17.81 for a week of dinners for a family of four.  Each menu included "bread and butter" (12 cents for the entire family), as well as coffee or milk at 43 cents.  The big expenses were for protein: "Double-treat roast chicken" was 93 cents, Sauerbraten $1.44, Beef Stroganoff with Dill cost $1.12, and Stuffed Breast of Veal, $1.16, for a family of four.

"Our home economists have confirmed what you already know," the editors solemnly reported in 1971: "food prices have been soaring." They continued, "Two years ago they made a similar analysis of food costs in this area. Then, frozen cod fillets were 55 cents a pound; now they're 69 cents.  Carrots were 15 cents a pound; now they're 21 cents.  Margarine was 30 cents a pound; now it's 43 cents. And on and on..."  The magazine then detailed Henry Thoreau's food budget for eight months of sustenance at Walden Pond--$8.74.  Their reaction? "Oh, for the good old days!"

Indeed. Am I the only one who's noticed that pasta, on sale, has escalated 50% in the last few months, from about $1 for 16 oz. to $1.50?  Or that increasingly, it's packaged in 12-ounce bags and still going for the newly-bloated dollar-and-a-half?

Nearly everything in the supermarket has escalated in price over the past few months, probably as a result of increased fuel costs.  I haven't heard Pres. Obama or any of the other politicians address consumers' food costs specifically, but no longer are they a minor issue.  Any candidate who craves the feminine vote should connect on this.  Yes, men cook; men also go to the supermarket. But what percentage of users of coupon sites are men? Who better remembers what broccoli cost last year?

The '71 "Family Circle" is amusing for its advertisements, a large proportion of which are for cigarettes.  The issue's back cover shows a couple with feet dangling off a dock, the man taking a drag; the sunhat-wearing woman demurely holds her smokeless cigarette. A carefree weekend moment, with the ad-line, "It's only natural." Meaning, "Only natural menthol...not the artificial kind...That's why Salem tastes as fresh as Springtime..."

Also in the magazine is a full-page cartoon featuring a pack of Doral cigarettes that sings ("Taste me, taste me!"), another color page showing a flower-power dressed young lady adoringly eyed by a man at a soiree with the words, "Parties? She loves 'em...Music? Anything from Bach to rock. Her cigarette? Nothing short of Viceroy Longs."  "Farewell to the ugly cigarette," announces another full-page color ad. "Smoke Pretty. Eve."  True and BelAir brands also beckoned readers.

Anachronisms bring a smile. "Fresh new items in your supermarket," headlines another page-size ad showing stalks of corn sprouting packs of Kodak film, including the short-lived 126-size cartridge. Perhaps my favorite major ad shows two interiors: "Same room--so many ways to decorate it"...with walls covered with garish Con-tact paper in "flocked 'Empress'" and "Wormy Chestnut."  And where would our parties be if not for Brown 'n Serve sausage chunks with maraschino cherries served on toothpicks?

But some things never change, including our need to eat, and the desire to make meals easily and cheaply. With the plethora of recipe sites on the web, cookbooks are obsolete (hence my purge) but a good dish is always worth circulating.  No doubt, few chefs are now sending for the free booklet from Ac'cent (which is basically pure MSG) called "More Ta'am in Your Cooking with Ac'cent" ("Old-World Jewish food using Ac'cent plus recipes for such dishes as pirogen, a fried dough with meat filling, chopped Liver Spread and Baked Flounder with Cucumber..."). But some of these vintage recipes still hold appeal.

I have to modify a bit to suit kosher rules, but here's one that sounds interesting:
Potato Moussaka
3 medium onions, chopped (I'd use one)
6 tbsp. butter/margarine (I'd use olive oil)
1 lb. soy-based fake ground beef (original calls for real meat)
2 tbsp. minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 cup water
3 eggs
1 cup light cream or milk
2 pounds potatoes, sliced (I'd use a Cuisinart)
1/4 cup fine, dry bread crumbs

Saute the onions in 2 tbsp. butter til soft in a large skillet. Add the fake meat and stir, cooking, 3 minutes. Stir in parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and 1 tbsp. flour. Add the water. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat
     Separate 2 of the eggs; beat yolks with 2 tbsp. cream/milk in a small bowl. Stir into "meat" mixture.  Beat the 2 egg whites until stiff; fold into the meat.
     Heat 3 tbsp. of the butter/margarine in a large skillet. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring several times until half done.  Grease a 10-cup baking dish with remaining butter; sprinkle with bread crumbs. Layer meat and potatoes in baking dish, ending with potatoes. Bake, uncovered in 350-degree oven 30 minutes. Beat the remaining flour, cream/milk and egg together in a small bowl. Pour over top of potatoes. Bake 10 minutes longer.
    The 1971 "Family Circle" then adds, "Makes 6 servings at 37 cents each."

Now, I don't understand moussaka without eggplant, so I'd put sliced, roasted eggplant in those layers, but that's just me.  Might bring the cost per serving up to, oh, 43 cents.

Do we really pine for those good old days? Was life simpler and worthy of nostalgia?  Actually, this frozen-time magazine, with its emphasis on domestic arts, shows we're still pretty much consumed with the same basics of daily living, just using updated terms. In these yellowed pages is a story about a woman In Rockville, Indiana who makes 15 kinds of candy, jellies, jams and fruit breads (a female CEO).  There are "3 Famous Chefs and their favorite low-cost recipes" about James Beard, Julia Child and Craig Claiborne, all still subjects of foodie veneration. And there's emphasis on the self-satisfaction that comes from kneading, rolling and shaping your own bread--might be called "slow food."  It's a reminder that most Americans give politics an "eh," and then turn to deciding what's for dinner.

Admittedly, I don't cook during the week, saving my efforts for lavish Sabbath meals prepared for a table-full of guests. My husband and I forage leftovers the rest of the time, especially since becoming empty-nesters, though we do sit down together to share our gleanings.  But there's something about an enticing dish I can't resist, and my bulging manila folders of excised newspaper recipes will never see the recycle bin. Maybe because the meals at which we enjoyed these foods comprised the stuff of our lives, and spiritually confirm the maxim that you are what you eat.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Boomers' "Gray Divorce" trend is no surprise

My fave radio host spent an hour this week discussing why Boomers' divorce rates rising dramatically while overall divorce rates continue to go down. Spurred by a major article in the Wall Street Journal last weekend based on soon-to-be published research by Bowling Green State U. sociology profs Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin, the piece mulls the reasons why over-50s folk, once thought unlikely to bust long-term marriages, would increase their proportion of divorces, while in the same period, the divorce rate overall declined.

More specifically, oldsters' divorces increased from 5 per 1,000 married people to 10 in the last 20 years, while the overall divorce rate declined from 19 to 17 per 1,000 married people.

If you ask me (and I've written a best-selling book on divorce), they've made big news out of predictable data.

The huge headline should be that the always-phony 50% divorce rate is once again shown false.  That people who do get married--and there are less of them nowadays--tend to stay that way.  But as the huge demographic Boomer bump becomes seniors, they drag their life-long willingness to divorce into a new generational rubrick, a time of life when previous cohorts of oldsters tended to eschew divorce.  Boomers never have.

Another change is that far fewer people marry in their 20s.  In 1986, 27% of those under 30 had never married.  By 2009, that figure had jumped to 47%.  That means nearly half of those in their 20s weren't even in the running for a divorce.  Of course, then, with younger people representing fewer of the marriages, older people's proportion of divorces increases.

We should celebrate that most people stay married to their first-and-only partners. Census Bureau figures (May, 2011) show that for 72% of married couples, both partners are in their first marriages--and more than half of the remainder contained one partner in a first marriage.  (And indeed, Table 6 of of the Census Bureau's report, "Number, Timing and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2009" reveals just that.)

So we see a few things to temper the scare over "Gray Divorcees."  First, most people do stay married, so this so-called "phenomenon" of later divorces is relatively small. Second, the average age of the married population, and thus divorcees, is older. Third, the proportion of divorces by people beyond age 50 has increased, but because they're boomers who fueled the divorce revolution, many of those are second or subsequent marriages.

That's the crux of the issue--Boomers are just continuing to do what they've always done. Continued vitality also fuels marital movement: people are living longer so they're around to divorce into their 60s, and want to make the most of the decades they've got left. Boomers won't put up with relationships that don't match their "me generation" expectations.

 A sidebar column in the Wall Street Journal by Carl Bialik describes risk factors for older divorce, including failure in previous marriages and, guess what, infidelity. Twenty-seven percent of respondents in a 2003 AARP poll of people who'd gotten divorced at least once between ages 40 and 69 said affairs were a reason (16% said it was the primary reason).

Boomers liberalized divorce, popularized cohabitation, and sang, "we don't need no piece of paper from the city hall, keepin' us tried and true."  They were the ones who brought the divorce rate to its peak in 1981.

A more recent contributing factor to the willingness of Boomers to divorce (at a stage when their parents and grandparents wouldn't) is the general redefinition of marriage.  Rather than a responsibility, a commitment and a sacrament, marriage is now a declaration of love, with some legal consequences. 
 Breaking up is a sad reality for many people, and now, after years of doing just what they've pleased in their liaisons, Boomers as a group are simply continuing to exercise their expanded range of options.

A more recent contributing factor to the willingness of Boomers to divorce (at a stage when their parents and grandparents wouldn't) is the general redefinition of marriage.  Rather than a responsibility, a commitment and a sacrament, marriage is now a declaration of love, with some legal consequences.  When gay marriage was considered outrageous, marriage was the honored place where an man and woman raised their family, bound not only by spouses' affection but a community that considered their stability key to success.  Responsibility for someone else (spouse) first was the marital norm for pre-Boomers; now first responsibility is to oneself, and the general attitude shuns judgement of or obligation to others.

The New York Times reported this study on Boomer divorce rates as part of elders' broader trend toward living uncoupled, the focus of the Brown-Lin research. Given the sheer size of this demographic group, the fact that a third of over-50s won't jog into the sunset with the support of a spouse could have a major impact on federal and local policy and spending.  But hey, 80 is the new 50, and medical science has botox'd this group wrinkle-less; they may decide to shack up or revive the communes of the 60s as they live another 40 years. We just have to look at this cohort differently from old folk who came before. Let the sun shine in.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Why we'll always be Girls (and not Women)

Just read a NY Times article about the 25-year-old behind a new cable TV comedy called "Girls," and her pack of cronies portraying the insecure, sex-driven young 20s generation.  The interview with cast members ends with a statement from show creator Lena Dunham that "I don't think they would self-identify as women yet."  Well, I'm in the upper generation, and still have an affection for addressing my feminine cohort as "girls."

You'd think that the feminist movement, in which we boomers matured, would have impressed on us the respect in being a woman rather than an immature "girl." But that's not the association I have with the term.  "Girl" means youthful, inquisitive, blooming, vibrant. "Woman" means stern, staid, haggard and humorless.

When I embraced the Feminist Health "movement," first through a local Feminist Health Center and then volunteering through a UCLA program dispensing birth control advice at a table set up on Bruin Walk, I first heard the term "high school women."  In the preparatory instruction we received, I was taught about sexual concerns of secondary school students."Oxymoron," I thought--you can't be a woman when you're in high school; you're still a kid.  Certainly I was still a girl, subordinate to my teachers, school administrators, my parents, even when in grad school.

There's something too serious about being a woman (unlike the word "man," which is a mere descriptor of gender).  I want to be taken seriously, but in the contexts where I'm nameless, I'd rather have adjectives about why I'm formidable--call me "psychologist," "author," even "wife of," because I'm proud to be a team-mate to my spouse.  But "woman" is not only anonymous, but sometimes, sad.

At my Shabbat table yesterday were two couples in their 70s.  They talked about their activities, and one described an outing of friends: "I went with 'the girls'..."  She paused and added, "well, I guess we're not exactly girls anymore..." But her first instinct in describing a lively afternoon was to call her group "girls," because "girls" have fun; girls giggle and enjoy.

Yes, it's partly denial of the loss of respect that comes with aging. As we oldsters are replaced on the scene by this sex-obsessed, raunchy group (I prefer being a bit more civilized and demure), we don't want to lose that spark of energy and excitement. And so, the word "girls" is no longer anti-feminist; since we know who we are, and have made our marks, we can be comfortable with the word we once eschewed (as well as anything else we want to say), and not worry about what others will respond.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Mitt Romney, Up Close and In Person

Yes, today I got to stand right in the front, at the barricade, when Mitt Romney made a campaign stop in Bellevue, Washington.  My husband was on the program (he introduced the woman who introduced Mitt) and he had some private moments with the candidate. I didn't, but was the first he happened to approach when he jumped down from the stage to engage with the wildly enthused overflow crowd.

Dressed in blue jeans and a rolled-sleeve, striped shirt, he impressed an already dedicated audience with his casual genuine-ness, first speaking off-the-cuff first about his wife, Ann. They met when he was in 4th and she in 2nd grade; he paid no attention until she was a sophomore and he stole her mid-date away from another guy: "I said, 'I live much closer to her than you do...and I did take her home that night, and we've been going steady ever since." That's five sons and 16 grandchildren later, he mentioned.

What surprised me was how articulate he was. I was used to his halting responses to TV debate questions, seeming a bit too timid to take on others without a slight stammer, but today, his speaking style seemed charged; he came across as the eager jolt of energy who can't wait to take on the job of undoing fetters in free enterprise's way. "I can tell you this: I won't be playing 90 rounds of golf when there's so much to get done!"  The crowd screamed and stomped.

He talked a lot about jump-starting the economy, by protecting intellectual property, by aligning with other nations in an ethical agreement to promote greater trade, by overhauling the tax code to lower burdens on small businesses.  He spoke in support of the military, saying he'd replace Obama's pledge to reduce our forces by 50-100,000 with purchases of ships and planes and an increase of 100,000 additional soldiers.  He was strong and inspiring, and lept from his platform to shake hands with pumped supporters.

Then he did something unexpected. My husband was asked to go into an adjacent auditorium, where another thousand supporters who by fire law couldn't fit into the main hall heard Romney's talk.  State congresswoman and state Romney chair Kathy McMorris Rodgers was speaking to the attentive crowd; my husband was ushered onto the stage and introduced. He didn't know what was coming, so started praising Mitt's remarks--when suddenly the candidate himself burst into the room, took the microphone from my startled husband, and launched into another talk, punctuated by detailed and moving anecdotes, including one about a young skater, who'd risen from nothing, who was honored at an event to carry a corner of the flag that flew on the Trade Towers on 9-11.  Romney described the young man's emotion when relating the experience: "suddenly a gust of wind lifted that flag up into the air, and I felt it was the spirit of the men and women we lost on that day."  Most of the audience lost it, too, because of the way Romney told the story.

This was no well-rehearsed performer, but a man clearly touched by his encounters with Americans, and staunchly driven by a vision of the values our nation represents.  I don't care for his theology, but I do respect the years he gave to communal leadership, as well as the impact of a church that insists on industry, service, and above all, family.  Other religions send out evangelists, but only the Mormons consider it a rite of passage to devote two years in a foreign country at an age normally considered party-time.  The messages this imparts at a crucial time of life are selflessness, obligation and responsibility, which may produce straight-laced, nerdy achievers far removed from the pop culture loop, but with well-ingrained practice in the kinds of traits I'd want in a neighbor...or a President.

After his second improvised talk, he again leapt down from the stage to grasp the hands of admirers--and I was the first he clutched.  Most politicians who encounter hundreds of palms daily have learned a half-handed grip and a two-second shake-and-pull, but I was struck that Romney looked at me full-face, grasped my hand completely and shook up and down several times.  I watched him move through the group along the metal barricade, engaging with his fans in personal moments rather than dutiful swipes.

I didn't get the feeling from his presence he was Presidential. I was convinced of his fitness for the highest office from his ideas, his words, his determination. His presence, however seemed more humble, a guy who wants to make a good impression on everyone he meets because he doesn't assume his own greatness.  I find that a contrast with the incumbent.

Tomorrow are the Washington State caucuses.  That means that Sabbath-observant Jews will be walking to our precincts and voting verbally. My husband and I will be hosting a Shabbat lunch table of 12 afterward.  I think using caucuses to determine candidate-loyal delegates to a larger convention that then chooses GOP delegates to the main event discourages participation.  Hardly anyone I know is aware of the caucuses, much less where and when; they'd rather get a ballot with nominees names, and mail it in.  Washington's process tomorrow is an aside on the path to Super Tuesday, which diminishes involvement further.

Too bad more voters couldn't attend the 8 am rally this morning.  They would have been reassurred that when Romney is eventually selected, which he will be, Republicans will be represented by a candidate unlike his press image.  This is a self-starter, not a rich guy buying his election; a sincere patriot, willing to make personal sacrifices for noble values, and, important to me, a devoted husband and father whose personal life is aligned with his lofty pronouncements.

After viewing and watching Mitt Romney, I'm actually enthused to get into this campaign. The contrast between Barack Obama and Mitt is stark, and I'm confident that the American people--jaded with the "hope and change" that has our nation in its deepest debt ever--will affirm their faith in their own abilities to produce, if only the government would get out of the way.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sex is Popular, in Yoga and Politics

Just came out of my Yoga-lattes class, rolled mat in hand, to read the NY Times story about fallen Yoga guru John Friend, who was apparently more-than to many of the female adherents of his self-developed Anusara yoga.

The article details Tantric roots of the philosophy, where sexuality is a major part of its gestalt.  I can't say that the fifteen ladies in our unsteady downward-facing dogs, happy babies and pigeon poses were excited by anything more than being able to hold a "teaser," but Mr. Friend stands accused of financial malfeasance, Wiccan sexual activities, and, I'm sure, violating his community's ethical principle called "Brahmacharya," which involves "Practicing sexual moderation, restraining from sexual misconduct, and avoiding lustful behavior. Includes sexual chastity."

Ethical guidelines for teachers on the Anusara website also admonish, "When sexual attraction occurs between you and a student, be very disciplined and mindful to avoid any adharmic behavior. Never give an improper or imbalanced amount of attention to an attractive student or one with whom you are in an intimate relationship while in the classroom. Outside the classroom develop any intimate or romantic relationship slowly and do not act on sexual attraction until a steady trust in the relationship has developed."

I won't comment on the grammar that suggests an "intimate relationship while in the classroom," but in case you're wondering, "adharmic" is a Hindu yoga term for a-(against) dharmic (laws of the universe).  At present, Friend has dropped out of sight and sold half of Anusara to Israeli Michal Lichtman, who promises a re-vamp. Ohmmmmm.

Jump now to an observation by Fave Radio Host, marveling at Rick Santorum's stomach-dropping plunge in Rasmussen GOP likely-voter polls: he went from a lead of twelve points to a deficit of 16 points, a breathataking swing of 28 points in just 14 days. Yesterday's (Feb. 29) respondents picked Romney, 40% compared to Santorum's 24%; just two weeks ago Santorum was up, 39% to Mitt's 27%.

 My Cultural Crusader had an astute analysis of Righteous Rick's self-destruct: "Could it have something to do with deciding to rant against contraception, pre-natal testing, college, JFK, working women, separation of church and state, and more? Alex Castellanos said it very well. 'Republicans are in trouble if the public gets the idea that we're against sex. Sex is popular.'"

Sex is indeed popular, though inappropriate in some contexts and unrestrainable in others. I notice that John Friend's "Igniting the World 2012 Tour" appearances through June are all "postponed."  Similarly, if Republicans hope to make headway by November, they've got to refocus the debate away from bedrooms and into pocketbooks, as well as the deep trench known as Obama's $1.2-trillion deficit, and a national debt that CBS News notes is "more than the total national debt of about $4.1672 trillion accumulated by all 41 U.S. presidents from George Washington through George H.W. Bush combined."

This Shabbat is Washington State caucus day, and my husband and I are planning to walk to our local precinct site to participate. Super Tuesday is a blink away.  I do think Sen. Santorum cooked his goose with his unsolicited opinions on sexuality, and clearly plenty of others are crying fowl, er, foul, in the yoga world, including the NY Times article writer William Broad, whose new book evaluates the totality of yoga and concludes that despite scandals and risks, it offers "more good than harm."

Let us only hope that the candidate succeeding in November will do the same.