Thursday, May 14, 2009

Totally Random Stuff (aka Everything But the Kitchen Sink)

I've been meaning to blog about these things over the past few days, but haven't been able to for one reason or another. So apologies in advance for socking you with all these topics. I'm hoping at least one with resonate with you.

1. Credit card companies and the dope they have on us: There's an eye-opening article in the latest issue of the New York Times magazine about what exactly our credit card companies know about us and how they use that information to make decisions about our accounts. Particularly revealing was the part about the methods they have devised to predict the credit risk of each of their clients.

The exploration into cardholders’ minds hit a breakthrough in 2002, when J. P. Martin, a math-loving executive at Canadian Tire, decided to analyze almost every piece of information his company had collected from credit-card transactions the previous year. Canadian Tire’s stores sold electronics, sporting equipment, kitchen supplies and automotive goods and issued a credit card that could be used almost anywhere.
Why did birdseed and snow-rake buyers pay off their debts? The answer, research indicated, was that those consumers felt a sense of responsibility toward the world, manifested in their spending on birds they didn’t own and pedestrians they might not know. Why were felt-pad buyers so upstanding? Because they wanted to protect their belongings, be they hardwood floors or credit scores. Why did chrome-skull owners skip out on their debts? “The person who buys a skull for their car, they are like people who go to a bar named Sharx,” Martin told me. “Would you give them a loan?”
That so much of the detritus of our lives is being scrutinized and dissected so methodically is creepy, but I'd rather that they be assessing credit risk before handing out credit cards instead of slapping even the most infrequent offenders with horrendous fees to make up for their own lack of discernment when casting their nets for clientele.

2. Elizabeth Edwards goes public: OK, so you all have heard about Elizabeth Edwards' new book, Resilience. She's already been on Oprah, the Today show, Larry King Live and has been the subject of a myriad other talk shows. I have not read the book, but it is apparently her take on the adversities she has faced in her life. And they are not few or insignificant - the loss of her son (I don't know how anyone can recover from the loss of a child, but kudos to her and her family for deriving lessons from it and talking about it), her cancer, her husband's affair. One whammy after another.

Of all the topics the book is said to cover, the one the media chooses to zone in on is her husband's affair. Why does she bring it up? What does she hope to gain from it? What does this do to her children? Why is she putting herself and her husband through this? She is only opening herself and her husband up to scrutiny by talking about it now. And so on.

Here's Maureen Dowd in the New York Times:
But it’s just a gratuitous peek into their lives, and one that exposes her kids, by peddling more dregs about their personal family life in a book, and exposes the ex-girlfriend who’s now trying to raise the baby girl, a dead ringer for John Edwards, in South Orange, N.J.
Here's Tina Brown in The Daily Beast:
The hazard of confessional books is how fast the world moves on while they're written. Hearing about that doggy old "misdemeanor"—as she insists on calling her husband's infidelity with a campaign videographer while he was running for president and she was fighting terminal cancer—just drags us back into the messy aftermath of the election season at a time when we are now busy trying to get on with a collapsing economy and save our own lives.
This seems like a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. If she had written a book about her life's adversities but had not written a word about her husband's affair then the media would have been all over the book for being incomplete and irrelevant. There were also questions swirling around her when the news of the affair first broke as to why she supported his campaign, why she stood next to him at events projecting a picture of solidarity even in the face of betrayal. Here's Salon's Rebecca Traister, one of my favorite writers:
These revelations are crushing to anyone with an idealized view of Elizabeth Edwards. She was supposed to be the responsible one, the direct one. Even if you thought he was kind of plastic-looking, smarmy, perhaps untrustworthy, Elizabeth was solid and dependable and straightforward. But here is the reality: She allowed her husband to risk the health of the nation, not to mention the health of her family. And she remained deaf and dumb to rumors that everyone was hearing. Why did they stay in the race, at the inevitable cost of their privacy, and the potential cost of a national election? Elizabeth has no cogent answers for this, except to note the crazy fantasy that perhaps drove them both.
Perhaps the book and dealing with all the issues she does in it is her way of answering those questions, her way of getting her version of the story out to the public. Moreover, what is the right way to behave in these situations? Are spouses supposed to stand by their straying partners in full view of the public and appear supportive (I'm being politically correct here, but if you do know of straying women and their supportive husbands, please do let me know)? Why?

3. The case against breastfeeding: In an anguished article on feeling self-imposed and societal pressure to breastfeed her children, Hanna Rosin wrote in The Atlantic last month:
The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women’s lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let’s say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That’s nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.
When I read that part about breast-feeing being free I was reminded that that's exactly what I remember people saying in India where a majority of the women just don't have the money to buy formula or do not otherwise have access to it.

It is very easy to want to judge Rosin and I don't want to do that. I wish each of us had the wherewithal to assess all the information available to us but also the self-awareness and courage to do what works for us. No more, no less. Lord knows breastfeeding is hard, and really, each person's perspective depends on her unique set of experiences. The article is honest and thoughtful and I applaud Rosin for that, but this interview (by Rosin) of Dr. Sarah Lawrence, an expert in and advocate of breastfeeding goes ten steps ahead in arming us with what we need the most when approaching parenting - the right attitude.

If you missed it, Dr. Lawrence, while being a resident and a doctor on call, breastfed each of her nine children for two years. If that is not a lesson in figuring out what is important to you, finding a way to do it and moving on with your life, then I don't know what is.

4. Finally, here's a tip. When you are expecting guests over for lunch or dinner, no matter what you're serving, and whether you are cooking the meal yourself or having takeout, about half an hour before guests are scheduled to arrive, saute a few slices of onions in a couple of teaspoons of oil. Nothin' like fried/roasted onions to give off vibes of a warm, welcoming kitchen.

So, let me know what you think!


Anonymous said...

If someone has a more effective way to achieve the opposite of item 4, I'd love to know. I dont like lingering onion (fried or otherwise) smells.

sujata sengupta said...

Cannot comment much on the credit card thing am afraid, am quite slow in getting such things.

But for point two, I can tell you nothing sells better than dirty linen. Not even cancer or death of a child. Its so sad and so true. The moment you wash your linen in public you are in for lots of views and takes.

Am all pro breast feeding if there is no medical hindrance. So the video was highly well received!!

The last and most clever point I will try out tommorow itself, have a bunch of people coming for sure it will be a hit!

great post as usual..loved it!!

Anonymous said...

Love the number four hint of onions!

I have wondered also about the story of Elizabeth Edwards. She has lived through so much pain and she will die too soon for her children. Perhaps she is hoping someday they will KNOW her and the struggles she encountered as a woman, wife, and mother...Hard to know what goes through her heart when she will not be here to guide them when they are older and need a mother's confidential ear and advice the most.

Frankie Anon said...

A lot to chew on here! The credit card thing is scary; privacy and anonymity are a thing of the past. We all leave such detailed trails these days.

The Elizabeth Edwards story hits home for me. As readers of my blog know, I write a lot about my husband's affair (albeit, anonymously). It was a central, life-shaping event in my life. How The scars I carry from this and other losses and how I coped is part of my story, part of who I am. And too, telling such stories may help others who are going through something similar.

Re: breastfeeding, I've never been a mother, so I shouldn't comment, but can't help noting that two women in my office are pumping quite successfully during the work day.

I like the onions idea. For those who don't like onions, boil a stick of cinnamon.

Rosaria Williams said...

You have quite a catalog of issues, each more important than the previous one and you have done your research as well. The piece about Elizabeth Edwards was of interest to me because when I saw her on Larry King she lost my confidence in her.

wordjunkie said...

Hi, and thanks for dropping by my blog. I lurk here quite a bit, and really enjoy your posts!

Sylvia K said...

The whole credit card thing is something of a nightmare as far as I am concerned.

I think Elizabeth Edwards has gone through unbelievably painful things in her life. I don't understand the need to continue publicizing them. Can't see how that would benefit her or her family. well, maybe financially, but is it really worth that?

I guess I'm pro breast feeding, at least I breast fed all four of mine, it seemed to work well for all of us.

And I LOVE the smell of onions cooking!

Great post Sujatha!

Sands said...

the credit card article was quite enlighting. Who would have thought about the amount of research and analysis that goes into getting people to pay what they owe? Not that simple I guess :)

Sujatha Bagal said...

Sujata, so did you try the onion thinggy? And the point about washing dirty linen in public holds good for blogs too, eh? But in her case, I don't think rustling up sales was the objective (as far as I can tell, which is not very far). I really do think she wanted her say in the matter, for her version to be out there.

Meredith, I had talked about the pain of a parent losing a child, but you're right, the thought of knowing you're going to lose a parent for kids so young must be even rougher. How does a parent prepare for that?

Frankie, that would have been my reaction - that she and her reactions were shaped by what happened to her. Which is why I don't understand the media's response to her book. About pumping at work, that's heartening!

Lakeviewer, I read somewhere that she was so ill-prepared for how to deal with the media on this issue as opposed to Hillary Clinton who knew just what she was going to say and how she was going to say it.

Wordjunkie, thank you for delurking!

Sylvia, thanks. I think when you are a writer, it's hard to stop writing! At least I read somewhere that she's a great writer.

Sands, glad you liked it!

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I found the breastfeeding discussion most interesting. Dr. Lawrence, inspiring on how we just do what we have to do, in many ways as a mother. Did that make any sense?

I'm so jealous of all your reading and so pleased to have read you most thoughtful post.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Julie, made absolute sense. In a fit of impulse, I wrote Dr. Lawrence telling her just that!