Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Off to my reunion.

Won't be posting for a few days, but I'll have lots to talk about when I return.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Digital Un-Dead

My sister died in 2004. But to look at my calendar updates, you'd never know it. She's in my Amazon address book (several times -- she had a tendency to move), she's in my cell phone contacts, her birthday reminder pops up on my Palm Pilot. My Hotmail account has a Carolla folder, named for my sister. I still have an e-mail she sent me on my birthday in 2001. Before 9/11. Before she was diagnosed with cancer.

We of the technorati age have a back-to-the-future problem. Our gadgets sometimes work a little too well. With their hard-drive memories efficiently backed up, it's my real-life memories that are hard to get rid of. And even harder to hold on to.

There's something so immediate about computer-age ephemera that I am sometimes tempted to call her cell phone number. I can't quite manage to do it. But I can't make myself delete it, either.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Then and Now

It's countdown to the Smith reunion and I'm not the only one getting nostalgic.

Writing in the Modern Love column for Sunday's New York Times,
J. Courtney Sullivan, a Smith alum, talks about how to bridge what she learned at Smith (man, oppressor, bad) with her dating life (cute boy, good). It's true that in some ways at Smith, men were more theoretical constructs than actual flesh-and-blood realities. Only the fire drills in the very inconvenient hour of middle-of-the-night proved who was experiencing real life and who was stuck with the books.

For contact with men (and to get out of taking a required class on the Federalist Papers), I took political philosophy at Amherst. Coming from the small-class, verbose environment at Smith, I was surprised that, just like we had been warned, the men dominated class discussion while women tended to hang back. One parpticular time I remember, though, the professor pointed out that often democracy wasn't always as democratic as billed. "In America, women didn't get the vote till, when was it?" "1920," I called out. Heads turned. The Smithie had shown her colors. The guys looked at me like I was making a feminist statement, not stating historical fact. I'm sure that little incident didn't win me any dates. But just as Sullivan discovers, not every guy is worth dating.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Some like It Hot

Last night I attended the Safe Is Sexy event for the Golden Gate Planned Parenthood chapter. Cynthia Nixon was the featured hotty. As we all got a little loopy on wines featured from women owned wineries, she regaled us with tales not told on Sex and the City.

One scene that was cut: on the episode where Carrie's Jimmy Choos are stolen right off her feet, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) meets and dates the detective on the case. She believes he's so out of her league that when they go out she gets drunk. They hook up and go back to her apartment. She's straddling him and, in the heat of the moment, projectile vomits. The scene was cut because, as Nixon described it, the writers decided it went too far.

But here's where anti-choice zealots are really taking it too far. Women's rights are under attack. In South Dakota. In the Supreme Court, where Roe v. Wade is hanging on by a thread. It's up to us, the sold out crowd at the Ritz in San Francisco, to mobilize, galvinize, vote and take to the streets.

I'd rather see Cynthia Nixon spewing on a hot detective than being treated as a criminal for deciding what to do with my body.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Al Gore TV

It was like political porn for democrats. Remember that boring guy who droned on about global warming and lock boxes, back when we had a budget surplus, we weren't in a war of choice and actually still had choice?

OK, so Al Gore did get to gloat with a big I TOLD YOU SO on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. The skit opened with an oval office address from President Gore. He'd solved global warming, had to confront an oil crisis -- too much of it -- warned American travelers overseas about being hugged too much by strangers, and had put the extra, extra surplus in a lock box.

Gore hasn't just come out of retirement to remind us of what we're missing. He's shilling for his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. All about Al Gore's kill-joy attempt to get the U.S. to pay attention to this global warming thing. I don't know about you, but I for one, am all charmed out by the current president and would welcome a little bit of the bore Gore. Meanwhile, where can I get a lock box?

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Mother of All Stories

The San Francisco Chronicle for Mother's Day highlighted the lives of four women. Four very unglamorous women and their hard, busy, and sometimes rewarding lives. This wasn't a style piece. It was on the front page.

Back when I was in journalism school, I organized a panel featuring Deidre English, Barbara Ehrenreich and Susan Rasky, among others, to discuss women and journalism. "Write women into your stories," we were exhorted. Don't write about women. This was the first problem of the Chron piece. Talking about them from that perspective only because it was Mother's Day was sort of a cheap way out. There wasn't anything newsworthy about the feature. We all know women work and have families, that being that taxed comes with many other challenges. But this in itself isn't a story. There was no larger revelation to come out of it, no major ephiphany. It felt more like: hey, it's Mother's Day. Throw the women a bone. Pul-eeze.

If I had been the editor for that feature, I would have probably done stories about fathers. To me, in the Bay Area, there's an amazing amount of team work going on to make partnerships and families run smoothly. I know stay-at-home dads, dads who have scaled back hours to manage the child care, and moms who work more, not less, to shoulder the economic burden. Now, wouldn't that have been a cool story to read about.

Maybe someday someone will write it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Listen to Your Mother

As my mom likes to remind me, at my age, she was the mother of a 12 year old and an eight year old. She was divorced and struggled to raise us herself while getting her teaching degree and working.

We grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, across the street from the university, and among graduate students and young couples. My mom would borrow the neighbor's vacuum cleaner, my sister headed over to an artist who lived nearby to do arts and crafts. And, strangely, all the pets on the street got along, cats, dogs, birds, squirrels. My sister's best friend on the block was the daughter of a woman who practiced mid-wifery and brought it into the mainstream, Michelle Harrison.

My sister and I looked after the cat of a photographer for Michael Graves. A French woman and her daugher, a ballet dancer in Switzerland, decorated the front porch with a profusion of flowers. We heard that the man who lived next door to us, who always kept his hedge clipped while ours grew wild and tall, had fought in a war. He had no jaw. Our downstairs neighbor was a Ph.D student in classics, who occasionally subbed at my high school, never had any visitors and eventually, one day, killed himself.

One block from my house was the public library, where I headed most days after school. I read through the entire kids section and moved into adults. Until I was old enough to go home by myself, that place, full of comfy chairs and a librarian, Dudley Carlson, who was ready to set me up with the 10 books I was allowed to check out at any one time, was home.

My mom decorated like, as she said, a graduate student. This meant the desk in her bedroom was a door held up by cinder blocks. Ditto the book shelves, except instead of a door, she painted wooden boards a cheery yellow. Orange curtains hung from the Bay windows and we sat in butterfly chairs, slept on mattresses (with Marimekko bedding) on the floor and ate at a Danish modern table.

I guess we were lucky -- the cost of renting a three bedroom house is about the cost of renting a couch in New York City these days. We scraped by, but we weren't unhappy or uncomfortable.

Not that it was easy. In fact, imprinted in my mind is actually how hard it was. Maybe that's why I always figured being a mom was something someone else did. That taking care of myself, family and friends, was challenge enough.

Now I watch as many of my friends become parents, I see it's true: Life only gets busier with kids, work, and everything in-between. And when you have a moment, you're wondering why things haven't gotten easier since you were a kid. There still is no easy path, no one way to get things done. And, let's face it, life has only gotten more expensive since the 70s. But this only seems to make the sacrifices all that much sweeter. It is hard. But as my mom told me today, she started having fun the moment she met me.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Bitter Pill

The abortion pill is getting slammed with criticism after four California women died from bacterial infections apparently brought on by mifepristone. Now there are eight other deaths during childbirth that occurred not from the abortion pill, but from the same bacteria. Anti-abortion foes are jumping on the deaths as reason enough to ban the pill. Congressional hearings are scheduled. A lot of people are getting up and arms.

But this Washington Post story doesn't mention until the last sentence that 600,000 people in the U.S. have taken the abortion pill without incident, and 1.5 million in Europe.

Now, I'm no scientist, but those odds sound pretty good to me. Not that I wish anyone dead, but seems like all the FDA has to do is recommend that women taking mifepristone should also take antibiotics, and there will probably be zero deaths. Nuf said.
Then and Now

As I've mentioned before, I'm quickly approaching my 15-year college reunion. And it makes me think. About life back then and now. Something that is really unfathomable is that really, if you look at the price tag of Smith these days -- only a zillionaire could afford it. And that's not what Smith is about. Turns out, Smith agrees. Check out this piece from Chonicle of Higher Education. Once again, Smith leads the way.


From the issue dated May 12, 2006
At Smith College, a Mission to Serve the Underserved

Without fanfare, one of the few remaining women's institutions offers financial aid and personal support to needy students


Northampton, Mass.

If wealthy, prestigious colleges are increasingly serving the nation's privileged elite, then Allison Bellew is not the type of student you would expect to find on the campus of one of those institutions.

She spent most of her childhood in foster care in Southern California and attended a public school in Los Angeles where more than two-thirds of the students qualified for the federal school-lunch program.

But like many students looking at colleges far from home, Ms. Bellew wanted a place totally different from where she grew up. That search led her here, to the hills of western Massachusetts, to what has become in some ways a haven for financially needy students like her: Smith College.

Although the women's college has a sticker price north of $40,000 a year, and many of its students are well-off, it is among the most generous when it comes to serving low-income students. Among private institutions with endowments of $500-million or more, the college had the second-highest proportion of students receiving Pell Grants in 2004-5, according to an analysis by The Chronicle. Nearly a quarter of Smith's 2,900 undergraduates this year received the federal grants for students from families earning less than $40,000 a year. Among private colleges with large endowments, only Berea College, a Kentucky institution with a mission to serve low-income students in Appalachia, educates a larger percentage of Pell Grant recipients.

Smith's efforts to serve needy students are nothing new, and in fact, have been overshadowed in recent years by fanfare surrounding the announcements by selective colleges, like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Princeton University, of new financial-aid programs designed to enroll more low-income students.

Audrey Y. Smith, the college's dean of enrollment, says serving low-income students fits neatly into the institution's historical mission to educate groups that lacked easy access to educational opportunities, particularly women. But she says Smith has not made a concerted effort to reach out to needy students. Rather, as women have increasingly chosen to attend elite colleges once reserved for men, Smith has broadened its recruiting in order to maintain its enrollment.

"In expanding our applicant pool," Ms. Smith says, "we were required to be more thoughtful and aggressive and creative in terms of our marketing."

Help From the Endowment

Smith tells prospective students that it is committed to meeting the full financial need of each admitted student. The college's ability to enroll so many low-income students is surprising given that it considers a student's financial need in admissions decisions.

Of the students who applied for financial aid in 2004-5, 82 percent received some sort of need-based grant, either a Pell Grant or an award from Smith. Among students whose families earned less than $30,000, 92 percent received grants ranging from $2,708 to $35,846.

This year Smith spent $36.7-million from its billion-dollar endowment on student aid. About half of those aid dollars came from endowment funds set aside to help students pay for college.

Smith also reaches a sizable number of low-income students through its Ada Comstock Scholars Program. Designed for women over 24 who have earned college credit at a community college or another institution, the program is open to students of all income levels, but a high percentage also receive Pell Grants.

Because of that, the Comstock program has the effect of slightly inflating the number of Pell Grant recipients at Smith. But even excluding the 153 Comstock scholars who receive the federal grants, the college would rank among the top five private institutions in serving low-income students.

To help needy students navigate the complicated financial-aid system and obtain the money they need, a group of low-income students at the college formed the Smith Association of Class Activists this year. The club also tries to make college officials and fellow students more conscious of class issues on the campus and in society.

Advice from that club and from administrators alerted Ms. Bellew, a computer-science major, to a series of grants available to low-income students at the college. One such grant helped her pay for health insurance. "I don't think I would have an easier time anywhere else," she says.

That support network was one of the selling points of Smith for Ms. Bellew. When she applied to Smith, she worried that her aid package — which covers all her costs with grants — could be reduced, or cover less of her tuition, after her freshman year. Officials in the college's financial-aid office promised her that they would work closely with her to cover her financial needs at Smith in subsequent years, an assurance she did not get from officials at Cornell University, where she also applied.

Smith, she says, "made me feel they'd take care of me."

College officials acknowledge, though, that their emphasis on reaching a broad spectrum of students has very likely lowered Smith's U.S. News & World Report ranking. The institution ranks 19th among the nation's top liberal-arts colleges. While Smith is comparable to colleges that rank above it on most measures, its students' SAT scores are lower. (A college's ability to serve needy students is not factored into the magazine's ranking system.)

Low-income students typically have lower SAT scores than test takers from wealthier families. In the latest U.S. News rankings, the middle 50 percent of Smith's entering-class scores range from 1160 to 1370. Institutions ranked higher have SAT ranges that begin in the upper 1200s or 1300s.

But Ms. Smith, the enrollment dean, says the institution is not overly concerned with the rankings. "Smith has never been wedded to SAT scores," she says.

Fitting In

While financially needy students like Ms. Bellew found the money to pay for Smith, fitting in on a campus where some students walk around with Versace sunglasses and Louis Vuitton handbags is much more daunting.

Ms. Bellew spent the first few months of her freshman year looking to transfer. Because she came from a predominantly Hispanic high school, the relative lack of racial diversity at Smith, where 54 percent of students are white, bothered her. "I wasn't used to so many white girls," says Ms. Bellew, who herself is white.

Among some students, the college has a reputation for being a place of privilege. "When I got in [to Smith], my mom bought me fake pearls to wear because that's what they wear," says Crisi Clementi, a senior who receives grants from Smith and is active in the low-income student association.

Carina L. Hatch, a senior neuroscience major who receives financial aid, says the college tries hard to minimize the differences between students by requiring all students to be on a meal plan and by charging the same rate for single dormitory rooms as for double rooms.

Still, tales of classmates who didn't know how to make their beds because maids had always done it for them, or who talk about renting hotel rooms for a week to get away from the campus to study make "you realize that there's a reality that's completely different than your own," Ms. Hatch says.

Cara Sharpes, leader of the Smith Association of Class Activists, says the issue of privilege is talked about in hushed tones at Smith, even though the college has a large percentage of low-income students. "There's a lot more inequality than people like to talk about," she says. Although about a quarter of students receive Pell Grants, and 60 percent receive some sort of need-based financial aid, most of the remaining students pay out of pocket.

The organization worked with the student government last fall to hold a forum on "class and privilege awareness." But many students simply expressed guilt about coming from wealthy families and never explored the issue in depth, Ms. Sharpes says. She says she would like to see the college place as much emphasis on class as it has on race in the past, including devoting a staff member to the issue.

As a freshman, Ms. Bellew worried that it would be clear to her classmates that she had to pay her own way for things.

She didn't own a winter coat before she came here, for instance, and was afraid her choice would announce to her classmates that she was not wealthy and that she was from California. At the time, she knew she needed good winter gear, but didn't have anyone to ask to help her pick the "right" things.

"There are girls walking around in Burberry coats," she says and recalls thinking, "clearly, I'm not getting that."

She wondered if it mattered, or if anyone else noticed, and in the end decided that she didn't care.

"People might dress really nice or they might not. Or they might be driving a Mercedes or they might be driving a VW that looks like it's about to fall apart, and for the most part it doesn't matter," she says. "What I came to realize was, it doesn't matter in the end anyway."

Section: Government & Politics
Volume 52, Issue 36, Page A14

Copyright © 2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Pillow Talk

Here's some news that I like to hear: women are enjoying sex more than ever before.

That's according to a new New York Daily News/Elle Magazine poll.

What helps: saying what you like. Laughing. And turning the TV off. (Sad that it's a point that actually has to be mentioned -- and that so many have TVs in their bedrooms. Did I read in the almanac that there are almost as many TVs as people in this country?)

My favorite sex study is still the one that proved that men doing the dishes was a turn-on. Men doing housework -- any kind -- is sexy. It really is.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Fashion as Statement

When Bush exhorted us to shop as our patriotic duty, the newest Marc Jacobs store probably wasn't what he had in mind.

But who says San Francisco can't be patriotic and make a point?

It's all too easy at the newest Marc by Marc Jacobs store that opened last week on Fillmore Street in San Francisco to mobs of fashionistas pawing through $5 bins of boxer shorts, ball caps and key rings, and $25 cords. My favorite thing about the store: the red, white and blue mannequins in the window holding a sign that read: we may hate the president, but we love America.

And I may hate the president, but I love Marc Jacobs! I don't even have to feel guilty post-purchase.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Finding Its Roots

If there was any question about South Dakota being a pro-choice state, there certainly isn't now. The nasty anti-woman law passed recently that only allows abortion to save a woman's life (not even in cases of rape or incest. Rape. Or incest.) has served as a rallying cry, according to this story in Alternet.

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day

From the Federal Reserve in San Francisco, where my office is located, I had a front-row view of the awesome power of the desire not to work. And send a message while doing so. Streams of people started congregating on Justin Herman Plaza around 9 in the morning. Some marched. Others jumped on the back of the el Chico produce truck for a better view and snap some pictures. But there was no one in particular to go paparazzi on. No Jesse Jackson. No Al Sharpton. No Nancy Pelosi. Just people. And aside from the random smattering of wayward protesters who seemed liked they'd wandered in from the past weekend antiwar marches, most were really there to make a statement about immigrants. To celebrate. And to activate.

Inside the Federal Reserve, a different subversive culture was being fomented -- the blog culture in the form of Markos Moulitsas, founder of the popular political blog Daily Kos, speaking for a packed lunchtime crowd before jumping on a plane on his way to his book tour. He wants to take over the establishment yawn of the Democratic Party. And judging from the response to his blog, he may even do it. He says just give the party another 10 or so years. Then we'll be in fighting shape. Rome wasn't built, oh, you know.

From the rebellious to the ridiculous: Monday's New York Times reported that Miller is introducing kinder, gentler ideas of manhood in its light beer ads. I would be cackling if I weren't too busy cringing. The commercials apparently showcase groups of guys sitting around tables talking about "Man Laws," some ad-induced invention. Oh, and it's guys like Burt Reynolds. He wants you to know that crushing a beer can on your forehead is so over. As my grandfather Manny would say: It's progress. It's not progressive. But it's progress.