Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Next Time I Will Procrastinate More Productively

So I've been a bit addicted to iGoogle, which is a customizable web page where you can get news feeds and other web content delivered to you in one place. They have some pre-designed templates ("themes") that you can apply to your iGoogle page for visual variety. This is their Classic theme, which I use for my home page:

I poked around a bit and found that someone had designed one for CARE International, and as you know (or maybe you didn't) I was doing my practicum last semester with CARE Thailand.

Anyway, I came upon some comments that people had posted about the template. The description given for CARE was this: "CARE fights global poverty by empowering women and girls to bring lasting change to their communities. Learn more at www.care.org."

It's from their website but I don't think it's their official boilerplate, because I know for a fact that their work doesn't focus exclusively on women and girls.

Anyway, someone had posted the following comment:

Charity for all... Anonymous - Jan 10, 2009 - Report this comment

Males are just as affected by famine and hunger as females. I don't understand this charity's preference and emphasis on the female sex (sexism?). Please explain.

I don't know why I bothered to explain, since the audience for the CARE iGoogle Theme Comments Page is probably even smaller than the one that reads my blog. Usually I write off infuriating comments as the gaseous by-product of ignorant commentators. But for some reason tonight I was compelled to explain. And quite politely, if I do say so myself.

Response to "Charity for all..." Anonymous - Jan 28, 2009

Actually males are not affected by famine and hunger the same way as females. Females, and girls in particular, are more vulnerable to natural disasters, disease, poverty, conflict and every other misfortune that life doles out in developing countries. They have a higher rate of HIV infection, lower levels of education, and fewer opportunities to earn money to support themselves and their families.

This is because in most cultures women and girls do not have the same social status as men. They are not valued as equal members of society. Many men in these cultures will tell you that women are property. They will tell you how many cows you should pay in order to get a wife.

In poor families, girls are passed over for education in favor of boys. Uneducated or poorly-educated females have fewer (no) opportunities to earn money. Without economic power they depend on their husbands for support. If these women do not have husbands or are widowed by disease or war, they're out of luck. If their husbands are abusive, drunk, unemployed or generally irresponsible, these women have no way to escape their situation. In many cultures a woman is blamed and/or rejected, often by her own family, if she tries to leave an abusive or exploitative marriage.

In many cultures, women do 90% of the work in a household (cooking, cleaning, fetching water, taking care of the kids, often even farming) but has virtually no say in how or when money is spent for the household - or when they get to have sex.

Without social status women do not have a public voice; they are not allowed to enter forums where the exchange of ideas occurs that bring about the changes that benefit them, their families, and their communities.

CARE does not "prefer" women/girls over men/boys; they simply know that giving women and girls the resources to support themselves and their family benefits the community as a whole - including men.

Having said that, if you go to their website you'll see that they have a broad range of projects, not just those targeting girls and women. http://www.care.org.

P.S. The light orange link color is hard to read. Please change.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Subway Diaries

My friend runs a blog site called Muni Diaries in San Francisco that chronicles the oddities and the banal seen on the public transit system in the Bay Area. I just Googled for a similar concept here in New York, and got a few decent hits. The most compelling one, at a glance, is The Subway Chronicles, which I plan to peruse at some point in the next decade or so.

Anyway, I thought of this as I was riding the C train back home from my friend's place in Harlem tonight. There was an ancient, homeless-looking guy on my car who appeared semi-conscious or drunk, leaning at a 45 degree angle, mouth-breathing and staring at nothing. I walked towards his end of the car looking for an empty seat, but immediately spun around and headed to the other side of the car because he was steeped in pee. Nothing personal, I just didn't care to smell him for the next 50 blocks.

A few minutes later I noticed he was alert and smoking a cigarette, which has been illegal on New York subways for the last 500 years. Strangely enough, everyone on the car was staring at him. I mean every.single.person. No one was staring when he was just this crazy smelly old homeless guy half sleeping next to a spilled cup of coffee.

A woman started scolding him from across the aisle. "You can't smoke on the subway. You're going to have to put that out."

The man just nodded and continued smoking. He was clearly mentally ill and not grasping what she was saying. People started whispering and continued to stare. One woman coughed loudly, several people covered their noses with scarves, one guy rolled his eyes, and about half the people on the train shook their heads and turned their frowns even lower.

The man sitting next to me said, "You know, Obama has never mentioned anything about mental illness in his health care plan."

I wasn't sure if this was true or not, so I said something else that I wasn't sure was true or not. "Yeah, mental illness is one of those things that doesn't get prioritized in health care because people don't see it as a physical sickness."

"Oh my God," the man next to me said. "Now there's someone kicking that guy."

This was true. Someone had gotten on the train, taken one look at the dude smoking, and started kicking him.

I feel like rule number one on the subway is, don't kick mentally ill people. It's not nice, and not really safe either.

The kicker got off at the next station, and the homeless guy started ranting to himself. "Nggh mgh nngh I don't GIVE A SHIT! Fnggn ghnn nngh."

Then he took his cigarette and got off the train.

New York Finally Recycles (Plastic Grocery Bags)

My subletter moved out and I settled back in to my old apartment last week. I opened the pantry to find a wall of grocery bags packed as tall as me. There were exactly two items in the whole pantry: plastic grocery bags, and an ironing board. I mean, how does that happen in the first place? I've never accumulated that many bags in my whole life, but I turn my back for one semester and you could film a horror movie in there.

All last year I asked around about where you can recycle these bags, and the answer was: You can't. You can recycle most other normal recyclables in New York, but not plastic bags.

It drove me crazy.

Fortunately, New York State recently passed a law requiring certain businesses in New York City to accept plastic bags for recycling starting January 1, 2009. This means that at larger grocery stores or chains there should be a clearly marked bin where you can return all those plastic grocery bags that have been accumulating in dark corners all over your kitchen.

Safeway in the Bay Area has had these bins for years. However, no one ever seemed to know about them, except me. Every month or so I'd take a huge plastic bag stuffed with plastic bags to Safeway, and people would always ask what the hell I was doing.

Anyway, now this brilliant idea has arrived in New York, but a lot of stores still don't have the bins. Stores are supposedly fined $100 a day for not having them, but there's either a grace period for compliance, or $100 a day is less of a burden for stores than figuring out where to get these recycling bins.

I'm happy to report that the Gristede's near me in Washington Heights is on top of their game, and has placed a bin right by the entrance, so now I can go in, dump my bags and not shop there, because their groceries are ridiculously expensive. But kudos to them for the bins.

The Fairway Supermarket on the Upper West Side has a bin, but most of their employees and managers don't even know about it. I finally found one manager who did, and he pointed me upstairs, to their organic food section where there were only about three customers milling about. My friend said to me today, "There's an upstairs at Fairway?" Not a good place for an item that is already so obscure in the consciousness of even the store's employees.

Since there's clearly a publicity and marketing person who's not doing their job on this plastic bag recycling campaign, I'm making it a point to tell everyone about it. (Also, if you'd like to fire that person and replace her/him with me, I do have a marketing background, excellent communication skills, and a fierce hatred of plastic grocery bags that don't get recycled.)

Another part of the problem is that I've only seen these bins with my own eyes in two places in the city. Let's be fair, though, I've only been back in town for a week. I hear that Whole Foods has them, if that's any help. The Rite Aid in my neighborhood doesn't have one, and the employee I asked about it didn't know what the hell I was talking about.

"You're looking for what? Outside. Just go outside."

So good to be back in New York.

If you find a listing of stores in New York that have these bins, send it my way.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cold. Expensive.

I’m back in New York after five months in Thailand, three weeks in Texas and four days in San Francisco. Coming back wasn’t as painful as it was this time last year, when I contemplated dropping out of grad school mainly because it required me to live in New York. That’s as harsh a review of a place as you can get.

This time it was only painful in terms of regulating my body temperature. It was 23 degrees the day I flew into JFK, and today it was 16. I hear it’s much worse in the Midwest, but I’m not counting my blessings. I’m ungrateful for the fact that it’s not below zero. It’s so cold here that I get angry when I feel the outdoors coming to greet me when I exit the subway or my apartment. I feel violated by how cold it is. It offends me.

But, it does make me grateful for warm things, like a down coat, tall boots, my oddly large collection of SmartWool socks, and fuzzy slippers.

Yesterday I was at Fairway – an “inexpensive” grocery store in New York – and started getting angry. Avocados are $2. Apparently that really is cheap compared to Whole Foods, where they go for $2.50 or $3. I mean, who is stupid enough to pay that much for an avocado? The answer to that – a lot of New Yorkers – only leads me to the conclusion that I’m living in a city of 8 million stupid people. Which then makes me even more irritable, especially because I’m often stupid enough to pay ridiculous sums for ordinary items as well. I just dropped $10 on a tiny box of dried cranberries mixed with dried blueberries. Why? After all, raisins are so much cheaper, and taste much worse. But everyone succumbs to the insanity eventually.

Case in point: In Bangkok I would get annoyed whenever I’d come out of a BTS station and the person in front of me would be walking down the stairs slowly. I'd think, “What are you, a turtle?” Plus, everyone knows it takes way more energy to go down stairs slowly than to trot down and let gravity do the work. Anyway, why does any able-bodied young man or woman need to go slow? Don’t they have a life to get to?

That’s when I realized that New York had seeped into me, just a little. I remember arriving home from Kenya, stepping off the plane in Houston and noticing everyone speed-walking past me. In retrospect they were probably walking at a normal speed and I was walking slowly. But I do remember thinking, why is everyone in such a hurry? Are they so excited to get to immigration so they can stand in line?

Like everyone else in the United States of America, I resolved to exercise more in the New Year. Catherine, my brother’s girlfriend, pointed out that in order for resolutions to work, they must be quantified. For example, “I resolve to exercise twice a week.”

Well, more is a quantity. In my case, it means any number greater than zero.

Actually, I had the idea to use the current temperature to guide my workouts, because doesn’t everyone want to merge her disdain for winter with her disdain for indoor gyms? Today when I went to the gym it was 17 degrees outside, so I did 17 repetitions of everything – sit-ups, leg lifts, weights, etc. Sadly, 17 reps at a time are still too many for me. This is either a sign for me to get more fit – or hope for colder weather.

Wait. That can’t be right.