Sunday, October 3, 2010

Did You Know?...beef fat and dryer sheets

A much-needed short post from my previous rants, I thought I'd share some incredible (and horrifically disgusting news) I read in a textbook for my business class.

Did you know [I'm serious] that most (non-eco) dryer sheets use beef fat to soften your clothes?  It's called tallow.

How disgusting is that?  We're wearing clothes and sleeping on sheets coated in beef fat?

A great and reasonably-priced alternative is offered by Method but there are many other brands you should check out too!  A simple google search of vegan dry sheets should do the trick.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Do We Really Need 40-Hour Work Weeks?

I probably shouldn't publicize this for the world (and my boss) to see, but I can easily say, on any average 8-hour work day, I spend only up to 5 hours doing actual work.  Sometimes as little as two, sometimes as much as 9.  On days that aren't filled with vigorous activity and urgent deadlines, I am itching for something to do.  Usually I go into "proactive" mode and search the internet for business opportunities for my company as well as come up with pitch and design ideas, or make some pretty pie charts and graphs. Other days, my mind can't help but wander into thoughts of "Why can't I just go home and do something more meaningful?"  I could make a bigger dent in my reading list, volunteer, go to the gym, cook something delicious, or even catch up on some much needed sleep.

As I was writing this post, I came across this article explaining the history of the work week.  Although the work week has been even longer than 50 hours, the 40-hour work week has been challenged before, and by the President!  During the Great Depression, President Hoover tried to get a bill for a 30-hour work week passed in order to cut costs without increasing layoffs.  Unfortunately, that bill did not pass in the House.  President F.D. Roosevelt tried again when he took office, but was overruled by the Supreme Court.  Instead, the government passed the Walsh-Healy Public Contracts Act, which mandates that people are paid overtime after working more than 40 hours.

Today, certain states including Iowa, Hawaii, Utah and Washington are testing shorter work weeks to confirm that productivity doesn't decrease.  The article also refers to a paper by Eric Rauch entitled Productivity and the Workweek where he explains that due to increased productivity (no doubt with the aid of advanced technology) an employed person today needs to work only 11 hours to achieve the same as a 40 hour work week for someone in the 1950s.  To achieve the same amount as someone in 1990, a 29-hour work week should suffice.

Now, obviously we want to keep trending upwards in productivity.  We don't want to be stuck in 1990 (though, if I do say so myself, the 90s were an excellent decade), but we don't need to be sitting at desks for 40 hours a week anymore either.

The benefits of a shorter work week are many.  Parents can actually drop their children off at school and be there when their children return home!  Companies can lower their energy costs, so they can pay their employees the same (which they should, as long as production output stays the same) and save (or earn) money.  People can sleep more, and have more time to devote to hobbies, which will undoubtedly lead in overall better health (psychological and physical).  Community-minded people will have more time to volunteer, which will lead to more service projects and organizations that our future generations will enjoy.

Companies do not have to be open for only 6 hours even if their employees work only 6 hours a day, however.  A second option is to have time shifts for employees.  For example, one employee can work from 8-2, another from 9-3, and another from 10-4.  Still totaling in 8-hour work days (so, maintaining the same amount of energy consumed).  Adjustments can be made based on company's needs, of course.  Employees can choose their times based on their personal schedules, taking their family into account.  A benefit of this option is a less crowded rush hour to and from work, since it should be about 1/3 of the people traveling at any given time.

In addition, the current ubiquity of smart phones makes working remotely so, so much easier.  As most businesses are technology-dependent, information does not need to stop at the desktop.   Even if a person has completed their 6 hours for the day, she is still highly reachable and capable of answering any work emergency.

I can't speak for everyone, but in my personal experience, I work better when I work a shorter day because I'm more focused on getting the job done more quickly.  Precision and accuracy do not suffer because my work ethics aren't changed by the luxury of more free time.  In contrast, when I work 8 hours a day, I tend to draw out my work because I know I have nothing to do once that task is complete, and I do not want to be completely idle.

At a time when many companies are "cutting the fat" and having their employees do the work of 2 or 3 people, causing them to suffer 10+ hour work-days and, probably, a lot of stress, I think we seriously need to revisit the idea of shorter work days.  There is a difference in productivity due to stress and productivity due to a good night's sleep and a well-balanced life.  I'd rather experience it based on the latter, wouldn't you?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Remembering 9/11 and Living in Mosque Madness

To say that I've taken a hiatus on blogging is a bit of an understatement.  I've had ideas for posts but never got around to writing them.  Something about blogging wasn't satisfying to me anymore, but I'm ready to get back into it, with a new agenda.  I've deleted many of my posts, about 28 of them, which I refer to as "fluff" posts.  No longer will I write about random funny things that happened to me or boys, or whatnot.  I'm going to start writing about things that really matter to me, current events, lessons learned and, of course, new age feminism.  I hope you'll still enjoy, even if you don't always agree with me.

So, for my first back-to-blogging agenda I want to talk about about the mosque at Ground Zero (could I have picked a more controversial topic?).  Before I go into that, I want to discuss where I was nine years ago yesterday.

Tuesday, September 11th 2001 was my first full week as a freshman in high school.  I was new to the public school system and still did not know many people.  While in my Spanish class, we heard the announcement over the loud speaker that one of the twin towers was just hit by an airplane.  We all thought it was some kind of freak accident.  My teacher, who was actually in the marines before becoming a teacher, immediately turned the radio on for news.  It was then that we listened as a second airplane crashed the second tower and heard of both towers collapsing to the ground.  It was then that we knew it wasn't an accident.  It was then that we realized nothing was going to be the same ever again.

We live in a town where many parents commute every morning to work in the World Trade Center.  As a result, kids were in hysterics, frantically trying to get in touch with their parents.  With cell phone service down, this was practically impossible, leading many to fear the worst that the last time they saw their parents was really the last time they will ever see them.  It was chaotic as students were crying in the corridors trying to comfort each other.  The news was featured on television screens in the cafeteria and auditorium, where we saw nothing but replays of the towers getting hit and collapsing and the heart-wrenching scene of many jumping out office windows.  We were so confused and scared and lost and sad and had so many questions that needed answering: "Are my parents safe?",  "Who did this?",  "Why did they do it?", "Is there more to come?".  Some of the answers we learned within the next few days, but others, especially the last, still causes many of us to worry everyday.

We lost a lot of parents in my town that day.  The father of a girl I went to elementary school with, who didn't even normally work in the towers but was there that day giving a lecture, emailed his wife saying, "The towers have just been hit and the building is on fire. I'm going to jump out the window. If I don't make it, know that I love you and the girls more than anything."  We also heard lots of stories of incredible luck.  My next door neighbor, for example, decided that morning that he wasn't really feeling up to going to work that day.  Another friend's dad was running late, for the first time ever in his life.  They and their families look remember this anniversary and thank God that they were spared by seemingly trivial circumstances at the time.

That day, we also saw the real courage and devotion of our nation's heroes: firemen, policemen, doctors, and neighbors.  People who ran towards the catastrophe selflessly, putting themselves in danger for the benefit of others.  There was a story about a 26-yr old man who found himself safe, but then ran up 60 flights of stairs in one of the towers to find his father.  Every time I think of these people, I still get emotional and hope that if I were ever put to that type of test, that I could react as bravely.

In the aftermath, American merchandising went into full effect.  American flags and images of the towers were everywhere: cars, windows, posters with the phrase "United We Stand".  Neighbors continued to help each other out selflessly and it seemed we were going to become stronger with this new sense of camaraderie.  However, on the flip side, we also heard stories of racial profiling, distrust and violence.  A man in the South went into a gas station and then was tied to the bumper of a car and dragged along the highway until he died all because he was wearing a turban.  It turned out that he was a Sikh, not a Muslim, not that it would have been acceptable behavior anyway, but if he had been Muslim it probably wouldn't have been discussed in the news as such a "horrifying" incident.

To this day, distrust still lingers towards Arabs.  My friend Amreen tells me how every time she flies back from her Teach for America position in the Mississippi delta to home in New York during a break, she has to arrive at the airport earlier because she is always checked extra cautiously.  They even pat down her head to make sure she has nothing hiding under her hijab.  To me, this is just a few short steps away from the Japanese Internment Camps during WWII.  Some might feel safer knowing these "extra precautions" are made for people who are "visibly Muslim", but I feel sorry for it.  I wish that having a certain skin color or outfit didn't automatically make one a target of suspicion.

Now, I'll finally start talking about the Mosque at Ground Zero.  Or what it really is, the Interdenominational Faith and Recreation Center.  I understand that many consider it "insensitive" to promote or allow Muslims to pray to their God on the ground where 2,819 innocent civilians were killed by, coincidentally, other Muslims.  But, what I also understand is that this is not just a mosque.  This is a center for people of all faiths to come together.  What I also understand is that Muslims have the same God as Christians and Jews.  Yes, we follow different prophets (Mohammed, Jesus, Moses), but the actual God and majority of our Holy Scriptures is more or less the same.  The three religions follow the same ideals: Accept God, pray, give to the poor, treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated, etc.  These fundamentals are found in other religions and practices as well, including Hinduism and Buddhism.  We all believe that while on our short stay on Earth that we should be good to it, and good to each other.  Now, those who hijacked the airplanes that crashed into the towers and Pentagon obviously weren't following these fundamental practices.  But, they were extremists.  They were brainwashed from the time they were children that the U.S. was their enemy.  I don't know what good they believed would happen for the Muslim world once they completed their "mission", but they probably were in so far deep that they couldn't even think for themselves.

It is not fair that one religion is excluded from this memorial.  This will only lead to more division, distrust and disdain.  In today's world, which seems so much smaller than before as a result of technology and travel, we can't afford to shut people out.  If we allow ourselves to love individuals before hating groups we will finally allow ourselves to heal.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What happens to women?

My friend Juli and I were watching a re-run of What Not to Wear, the TLC makeover show that turns frumpy females into double-take damsels.  The episode we were watching was a makeover of childhood star Mayim Bialik, star of Blossom.  Mayim's closet was crying for a new wardrobe as her bag-lady outfits did not flatter her size 2 figure.  Besides the superficiality/reality that is the basis of the show, I found a great interest in where Mayim headed once she finished filming.  She went to school at UCLA, even though she was accepted to both Harvard and Yale, and earned a PhD. in neuroscience.  She is one of the few child stars to come out with such a high degree and she was quirky, charming, and beautifully articulate.

Despite all of this, the producers of the show only stressed that after filming Blossom, Mayim became a wife and mother.  Seriously? Those two things come before the fact that that she earned a PhD. in neuroscience?  Her PhD. isn't even worth mentioning?  The sad thing is that this is not unique to Mayim.  Women are less respected for what comes out of their brain than for what comes out of their vagina.

By the end of 2009 it is expected that women will make up 50% of the nation's workforce (whether their pay is equal to men in the same position is very much debatable) due to the fact that the recession has hit men harder.  According to a Special Report by Time magazine entitled "The State of the American Woman", published the week of October 26th, women have made significant progress in higher education.  Today, 57% of undergraduate college students are women, 62% of master's students are women, and 50% of doctoral candidates, law students and medical students are women.  The numbers are staggering. Even more staggering though are the professional numbers.  Although 50% of medical and law school students are women, women make up only 32% of practicing lawyers and 28% of practicing doctors.  So the question: What happens to women?

My coworkers (almost all women, married with children) were discussing how much more "popular" their kids are than they.  Specifically, how other parents know their kids' names and refer to them as "[name]'s Mom."  I guess this happens to dad's too but it's a little different for them.  Men can always be referred to as "Mr." while women go through "Miss," "Ms." and maybe "Mrs." if they chose.  Since there are so many more single mothers today than in previous years, you can't just assume "Mrs." is the title you should be using to refer to a child's mom, so the default is "[name]'s mom".

It can be argued that raising a child is the most important job in the world and the most rewarding.  Sometimes I think that there would be nothing better in the world than to spend every waking moment with my child (speaking in the future, of course), to teach her/him practical knowledge and values and making sure s/he grows up to be a respectable person.  But, with my educational background I can't imagine myself actually ever feeling fulfilled by that.  Especially when that child is bound to slam doors at me and barely speak to me from the age of 12 onward.

Many women go through this dilemma with their first child.  But, for most, sending your child to daycare is simply not an option: very few centers are available and almost no corporation hosts a daycare center.  The thought of coming home and having your child less excited to see you than the nanny is just heartbreaking.  As a result, women take an extended pregnancy leave, maybe have a second child or more, and then don't go back to work.  Or, even worse, when they seek a job they find that they have been gone for so long that their skills are outdated and they have to start at an entry-level position or go back to school before they can even get that entry-level position they could've easily landed 15 years ago.

The problem is women, as ambitious as we may be, do not seek the limelight.  We are more concerned with being a catalyst for what needs to be done to move forward.  This is also the best quality that women have.  We want to succeed, but we want to take others with us.  When there isn't room for the others, we prefer to stay behind and take care of them.  When that happens, we surrender our identity and become an object of someone's possession (e.g. [name]'s wife or [name]'s mom).

I hope that whether or not I have children, I will always be known by my name, not as [so-and-so]'s mother or [so-and-so]'s wife.  One way to do this, obviously, is to not introduce myself that way.  For example, if I am married I will not say "I'm [name]'s wife," but "I'm Shalini.  I married [name]".  If I have kids, I will say "I'm Shalini, [name] is my child."  It's important to take ownership in this case to maintain your identity.  Furthermore, stating first what you do with your life, rather than whom you are responsible for, can help.  Place yourself on the highest importance and let other things follow.

It is assumed that a man is the head of the household and earns the household income.  It is assumed that if a married woman has a job it is because her husband doesn't make enough money.  It is assumed that a single woman has a job because she has not been able to find a man to support her financially.  It is not assumed that a woman has a job because she finds it more fulfilling than cooking, cleaning, tending to a man's needs and giving birth.  It is time that we change these stereotypes.  It is time that we change what happens to women.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Effect of Social Networking Sites on Relationships

We've all heard or said the phrase, "It's not official until it's on Facebook." What we mean by that is, I guess, "It's not official until everyone has access to knowing that it happened." And by "everyone" of course we mean our real friends and our fake friends, people who we met during a blackout night at a bar, creepy stalkers, people who we'd love to keep in touch with but don't because Facebook makes it too easy and we are too lazy to call. But, how have sites like Facebook affected relationships?

My cousin was dating a girl for about two years. They were in an "official" relationship because it was on Facebook. However, after one and a half years my cousin decided he no longer wanted to have it published on the site, so he kept his relationship status as blank. Of course, this made his girlfriend threatened so she responded by having a picture of the two of them as her default. Clearly, this was a warning sign. My friend Melissa best described it saying, "That's like taking your wedding ring off when you go out to a bar!" If my cousin no longer wanted to share his relationship status with the world, he no longer wanted to be in that relationship, right? He must have been looking for something else, or wanted someone else to find him. Six months later, they were done. In the olden days (aka the '90s), my cousin probably would have broken up with his girlfriend after the one and a half-year mark. In respect to relationships, Facebook seems to create this extra sense of responsibility to advertise what you "really" want to those you don't really know, and to hide what you actually want from those that you are closest to. For example, if you breakup with someone and you decide that you want to publish your "single" status on Facebook, there's a good chance you're saying, "I'm free and want to make out with you!" to those you don't know too well and are trying to hide the fact: "I have this up because I want you to be as miserable as I am. All I really want is you." to the person you just broke up with.

There are also times where people limit their profiles to others so as to prevent them from seeing what they're doing. Sometimes these are for professional reasons, other times it's to considerately hide from someone how much of a d-bag you really are. For instance, say you haven't really broken up with someone yet but have already found yourself in a relationship with another person. What do you do? If you're a d-bag: Put your first relationship-person on a limited profile so they can't see, of course! Don't be honest with them, that's too difficult and will probably result in confrontation. This dishonesty and "creeping around" isn't a new problem in relationships. In the olden days that I referred to before, a girl's friends might see her boyfriend out for a milkshake at the Max with another girl. The friends would tell the girl, and she would ask her boyfriend if it was true. Depending on how much of a d-bag he was, he would either tell her the truth, or make her distrust her friends. Fortunately ladies, our friendships are not in jeopardy anymore because there will always be pictures and wall posts to prove it.

The aforementioned pictures and wall posts need to carefully be handled when you're in a relationship. Although they can symbolize how close you are with someone nowadays, they can also be extremely offensive to others and be the street equivalent of fucking on the subway. It's unnecessary to write "I love you baby" everyday, or even once a month. Nor do you need to post pictures of you and your significant other making out. In fact, it shows how insecure you are, like when you're constantly holding hands in public so that everyone knows s/he's your property and trespassing is prohibited. I guess when there are so many people your significant other can be connected to, you may feel the need to rape their wall to mark your territory. But, like rape, guerilla wall posts are nonconsensual and may end up ruining your relationship.

So, like it has for most things, Facebook has created advantages and disadvantages in relationships. Now, you have access to tangible evidence that your spouse may be cheating. But on the flip side, relationships may be becoming more superficial. Your significant other may be sending you a hidden message when s/he "prefers" not to have your relationship published. Or, when you can no longer see their birthday and everyone else can, s/he is probably hiding other "basic info" from you. Perhaps this means a longer life span of the "official" relationship, but a shorter life span of the "honest" part of the relationship. Perhaps this means an increase in insecurity on one's part because your significant other is connected to hundreds of sluts who would give it up in an instant. Whatever the case, Facebook relationships have made it more important now than ever to read between the lines. The times have changed, but the advice hasn't: be careful.

The Thoughts Behind

I've given in. After months of reading the poetic prose of my fabulous friend Kaitlyn, learning about the architectural challenges facing New York city juxtaposed with the best cupcake recipes from sexy Sarah, and generally keeping up with my friends from far away who have blogs so that I can better know what's going on in their lives, I've decided that I could start one too. Although it took me quite awhile to get used to the idea of everyday people publishing text, it seems to be just another entrance ramp onto the information highway of our world.

The great thing about having a blog is there are no rules - no censorship. If I were writing a column for a newspaper or something, I would have to clear it with an editor and make sure it wasn't offensive. Not that I'm articulate or eloquent enough to write for a newspaper, but I'm definitely capable of being offensive. So that's why I'm here: to be offensive, to be honest, to ramble and rant, and maybe, to entertain.

I couldn't really think of a common theme for this blog. I didn't know whether I wanted it to be centered around food or news or sex or health or music, so I chose them all. I've titled this "Pieces," because that's all you will be getting. I'm not an expert in anything - far from it. So, I can never give you the whole cake, just Pieces. I think that's okay, because eating an entire cake will make you sick.

So, like I said: no rules. This also refers to grammar. Forgive me if I do not know whether to use a semicolon or a dash or if I even use them at the same time. Forgive me for my fragments and run-on sentences. I don't know any better; my parents are immigrants.

Welcome to the stream of my conscious. I hope you like it more than I do.