Sunday, August 28, 2011

Interview with Gloria Steinem

Thanks to Susan Bulkeley Butler for recommending Marianne Schnall’s interview with Gloria Steinem in the Huffington Post. At 77 Gloria Steinem continues to have so much to teach us:

On the future of feminism:
-She thinks of the future in two ways -- survival plus moving forward. Under survival, she would put all the efforts to save the female half of the world from violence directed at us specifically because we are female

Under survival she includes everything from domestic violence, sex trafficking, rape and serial killing to aborting female fetuses, female genital mutilation, child marriage and denying female children protein, health care and education.

-On the root of the imbalance of women’s representation in politics. (The U.S. currently stands as 70th among countries in terms of women’s representation):

Unequal access to money and media plus bias, external and internalized, and male-dominant religions and illegality at the polls -- all those are reasons for women's wildly unequal political power. All those are things we have to fight. If we organized well from the bottom up -- and didn't fall for the idea that our vote doesn't count; an idea nurtured by those who don't want us to use it -- we could elect feminists, women of all races and some diverse men, too -- who actually represent the female half of the country equally.

- Sending an email or twitter is not action

Read the entire interview here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

BAND Discussion: How did you get into non-fiction?

This week I decided to participate in the August BAND discussion. BAND - Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees - is a group organized to promote the joy of reading nonfiction. The members of the group are “advocates for nonfiction as a non-chore.” Each month, a member of BAND hosts a discussion on their blog relating to nonfiction. This month’s host for the discussion is Amy of Amy Reads.

Amy asks:
How did you get into reading nonfiction? Do you remember your first nonfiction book or subject? If so, do you still read those subjects?

I mentioned in a previous post I was an avid reader as a teenager. Living on a farm in rural Wisconsin my reading was more about trying to figure out life (or the life I thought I was missing out on) than anything else. The books I read were mostly fiction with no particular preference for any one genre. In college I gave up recreational reading for textbooks and did not return to reading for pleasure until after I had passed the CPA exam over a decade later.

It had been so long since I had read an actual novel I initially had a hard time determining what I wanted to read. I started with the classics and fiction recommended in the newspaper or featured on best-seller lists. I discovered Oprah's book club and began making my way through her selections. With each book I became increasingly disenchanted with fiction. If you have ever read any of Oprah’s book club picks you may understand my disenchantment – the majority of them are down right depressing. The book that pushed me over the top and into the forays of nonfiction was Tawni O’Dell’s Back Roads - it seemed as though O’Dell had taken every horrible thing that could possibly happen to a person and crammed it into one book. After Back Roads, I was done with Oprah’s book club and began looking for a different reading experience.

Shortly thereafter, I took Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail with me on a camping trip. This book was one of the funniest books I had ever read and a perfect pick for a vacation in the woods. I enjoyed learning about the Appalachian Trail and jotted the following note from the book in my journal:

200 year old pecan trees were commonly chopped down just to make it easier to harvest the nuts on the topmost branches.

When I returned, I decided to read more nonfiction and found this list* of Nonfiction That Reads Like Fiction at the library. I read Steven Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, Tony Horwitz’s Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before and Caroline Alexander's The Bounty : The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. Each of these books led to more note taking and a realization that I enjoyed reading to learn and discover the truth instead of the propaganda.

From there I discovered book blogs most notably Citizen Reader reading many of the books she featured. Some of my favorites include Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War, Paul Clemens's Made in Detroit, and Richard Longworth's Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism.

Currently I read nonfiction almost exclusively. I enjoy almost anything nonfiction, but prefer memoirs, biographies, history, business and economics books; basically any book that teaches me something new about what is going on in the world.

*This is the on-line version of the original list. Steven Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage is no longer featured.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Talk of Doom & Gloom in the Workplace Upsets Co-worker

I have a co-worker who I will call Mr. Doom who does not handle negative economic news well. At the first sign of a stock market downturn or talk of a recession, he begins spreading rumors that the company is going under; we are all going to lose our jobs and end up living in a van down by the river. In the past, his negative talk has been so disruptive he received a warning from HR.

Needless to say, Mr. Doom did not handle this week’s stock market roller-coaster ride well. Beginning on Monday he began making his usual rounds spreading doom and gloom to co-workers. I don’t really listen to these ramblings or take his projections seriously, so I was surprised when Deb an employee from another department approached me saying Mr. Doom was upsetting her so much she never wanted him to talk to her about the economy again.

I told her not to listen to him he doesn’t know what he is talking about. I then quoted Clark Howard telling her Clark believed in capitalism, that our capitalist system was going to prevail and that government just needed to get its act together. By the look on her face my statements did not help at all.

Mr. Doom moved all his money to a dividend producing fund called BGY and told me and others we should do so as well. As the week progressed he followed me around giving me updates on how much money he had made and I had most likely lost. Finally in exasperation I told him to stop checking the market; there was nothing any of us could do about what is happening anyway. Then hearing my phone ring I told him we should all get back to work.

Later Deb approached me saying she had overheard my conversation with Mr. Doom and how much she had enjoyed it. I told her we should all stop panicking and concentrate on the positive aspects of the economy. I had just read Kent’s post Reality Check: Average Market Corrections and pointed out some of the positive items he listed in his post:
• The debt ceiling crisis has passed.
• 75% of companies beat earnings estimates.
• Oil is back under $90.
• Car sales are up 5.8% year over year.
I then told her our company had had positive year-to-date earnings at the end of June for the first time in three years, we had a positive July, and early August projections looked good. Also, that our company’s owners foresee good things happening for the remainder of the year and are not worried about what the market is doing.

She seemed satisfied and I realized that was what she was looking for. She needed to hear the company was okay and to be reassured her job was going to be safe.

As to Mr. Doom, he panicked and pulled all his money out of BGY Thursday morning. He was off on Friday, so I don’t have a final update, but I’m sure this move was a mistake. According to stock market results the Dow ended the week just 1.5 percent lower than it had started.

Do your co-workers panic during economic upheaval? What does your company do if anything to squelch their fears and keep employees focused on their work?

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Evelyn Nesbit – What we can learn from the first “IT” girl

I began thinking about the path that leads to the exploitation of young female celebrities after reading New York magazine’s article Paw Paw and Lady Love about Anna Nicole Smith recommended by Citizen Reader.

If you read the article you will learn Anna Nicole Smith born Vickie Lynn Hogan, lived in an abusive household, dropped out of school at 15 after failing her freshman year, had a mother who didn’t protect her, and was exploited and taken advantage of throughout her tragic life.

After reading the above article I began searching for books about young celebrities who were able to rise above the fame and exploitation. Instead  I came across Paula Uruburu's book American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White: The Birth of the "It" Girl and the Crime of the Century on a women's issues non-fiction book list on

Here is the book synopsis from the article:
But when did our fixation on celebrity, youth, beauty, money, and scandal begin? Author Paula Uruburu travels back in time to reintroduce us to "American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the "It" Girl, and the Crime of the Century." At the young age of 16, Evelyn Nesbit entered pop culture history as the nation's first pin-up girl; but her rags-to-riches story ended in a trial that involved madness and murder.

What is the book about/my thoughts:
The book is an engrossing quick read told entirely from Evelyn’s point of view. Her exploitation begins when her father died when she was ten. He left the family penniless and in debt. Her mother unable to find adequate employment pulls her children from school lies about their ages and finds them employment at a department store. Evelyn who is an incredible beauty becomes a popular artist’s model and eventually an actress. From there she is noticed by Stanford White, a famous married architect who has a weakness for young girls. You can see where the story is going. After being abandoned by her mother with few options available she marries Harry Thaw a jealous millionaire with mental stability issues.
In 1915, Evelyn wrote, “Some women have a conscience: some have a sense of self-preservation: they frequently exist together, but most often one does duty for the other.” Having been forced at such an early age to choose self-preservation, not to mention the preservation of her precarious family unit, Evelyn the child-woman saw precious few examples of conscience in action from the so-called adults or guardians in her life. (pg. 208)

Harry ends up murdering Stanford White and the trial of the century begins. Because of the publicity of the case six hundred prospective jurors went through the process before twelve were selected.
(Women, of course, were not allowed to serve on juries.) (pg. 323)
Evelyn testifies. After years of working as an artist’s model she is able to maintain her composure and stick to her story despite a grueling cross examination. The trial ends in a hung jury. The second trial sends Harry to a mental institution. Harry’s family disowns Evelyn and once again she is out on the street. She spends the rest of her life living in the aftermath of her celebrity trying to make ends meet. Her mother never comes to her rescue.

It is interesting to note in interviews after the trial, Evelyn’s father’s family point out Evelyn’s mother could have done more to support her family. She could have taken in laundry. Instead, she chose to live off Evelyn.

To answer the question was Evelyn Nesbit so different from today's young starlets? I turn to a Paula Uruburu interview on the Book Club Queen. Paula answers with:
Sadly not at all – she is in fact the poster girl as the first in a pattern we have seen with young starlets ever since. I only wish that the young girls (not women) who are already in the harsh cynical light of celebrity-fueled fire – with names like Miley, Britney, Lindsey, Mary-Kate and Ashley – or those contemplating fame based on such fleeting things as beauty or the whims of a fickle public, read Evelyn's story and learn something from it. It is of course doubly difficult when, like Evelyn, virtually all of today's teen-aged femme fatales are placed in harm's way by parents with dubious motivations and atrocious parenting skill -- and that we are still a culture which delights in watching young women crash and burn for its own titillation and entertainment. As I say early in the book, those who don't learn from history's sins are doomed to repeat them -- and 100 years later NOTHING has changed.
And to my original question - what about celebrities who were able to rise above their fame and make it? Paula answers:
Sadly, Evelyn may have been the first but she was not the last in a long line that very few can seemingly escape successfully – Jodie Foster and Brooke Shields come to mind as two who did rise above circumstances– and of course they went to Yale and Princeton respectively. Somehow, I don't see college in the future of the Lindseys, Britneys, and Mileys who dominate the current pop culture scene. With the world at their feet and global information at their fingertips, it's hard for me to see young women squandering the opportunity to do something significant and lasting with their lives. As Jack Kerouac wrote, "Fame is yesterday's newspaper blowing down Bleecker Street."
The book includes numerous photos of Evelyn from her modeling portfolio which adds to the enjoyment of the book. If you enjoy nonfiction and true crime similar to Erik Larsen's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America will enjoy this book.