Monthly Archives: December 2005

In a Lather

I just read an Alternet interview with Douglas Massey, a Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. He’s written what sounds like an engaging book called Return of the "L" Word: A Liberal Vision for the New Century .

The premise is that a liberal economic policy should be one in which "markets work in the public interest."
"The time has come," he writes, "for liberals to tell the public that markets are not ‘free,’ but human-created institutions that citizens have a right to supervise and mange for their own benefit. Liberals need to abandon their lingering hostility toward market mechanisms, embrace them, and substitute a new rhetoric of ‘democratic markets’ for the false metaphor of the ‘free market.’"

It got me thinking about soap.

“ALL-ONE!” the bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap proclaims. My best girl Ann introduced me to them years ago. The liquid and bar soaps are organic and are packaged in 100% post-consumer recycled PET bottled or 10% hempflax/ 90% post-consumer recycled paper. The come in luscious flavors like almond, lavender, and eucalyptus, and you can find them in practically any drug store or health food store.

I love the ingredients and the scents, and am a total sucker for the packaging and the story behind it. Colorful bottles of green and purple caution against drinking soap, tell us that the only cosmetics we need are enough sleep and Dr. Bronner’s soap, and remind us that “Absolute cleanliness is Godliness!”

According to the Bronner website, Dr. Bronner was a third generation master soap-maker from an orthodox Jewish family in Heilbron, Germany. He was heir to the family’s soap factory and business, but rebelled against his dad and immigrated to the United States in the late 1920′s. The Nazis nationalized soap factories in 1938 and Bronner’s parents and most of his family died in the Holocaust. "That tragedy shaped Dr. Bronner’s vision and philosophy that we’re "All-One!. . . Dr. Bronner was also grounded in a powerful ecological consciousness, and the soaps were an extension of this simple, natural and 100% environment-friendly.”

Dr. B didn’t just turn out good soap, he created a company that still reflects goodness.
* The salary of highest paid employees is capped at five times that of the lowest paid employee. (According to a report by the research and advocacy group United for a Fair Economy, the ratio of average CEO pay–now $11.8 million–to worker pay–now $27,460–spiked up from 301-to-1 in 2003 to 431-to-1 in 2004.)
* Employees have a great profit-sharing plan and a no-deductible health insurance plan.
(What I would give for no deductible!)
* Over the last 5 years, the company’s charitable donations to social and environmental causes have approximated its total after-tax income.
* The company doesn’t test its products on animals and uses organic oils in all of its soaps.

I haven’t read The L Word yet, but I have read Dr. Bronner’s soap bottles.
I suspect they share the same sentiments.
From the soap:
1. CONSTRUCTIVE CAPITALISM IS WHERE YOU SHARE THE PROFIT WITH THE WORKERS AND THE EARTH FROM WHICH YOU MADE IT!
2. WE ARE ALL BROTHERS AND SISTERS AND WE SHOULD TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER AND SPACESHIP EARTH!

Wisdom comes in unexpected places.
What fun when you find it in the shower.

Lather up.
Simran
(Singing in the shower, aka the soundtrack for this post, Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend)

Sweet and Lowdown

It has been awhile.
I promised to sex it up when I got back and I am nothing if not a woman of my word.

Here’s the thing:
I eat organic food, I use a non-PVC yoga mat, I try to wear clothes that aren’t made in sweatshops, I drink fair trade decaf. But my eco-friendly life hadn’t really taken a trip south, so to speak, until a frank conversation with a friend and the discovery of Nude personal lubricant.
(This link will take you to a review of Nude from Clitical, a fun and juicy website.)

I’m not here to sell you products, but I will say finding creative ways to bring my values between the sheets has been nothing but fun.

Nude is the first certified organic lube on the market. It’s food grade quality, it’s the consistency of honey, and smells and tastes fine. If you’re used to something clear and thin, the opaque and viscous Nude takes some getting used to. The only challenge is it’s oil-based (which means it’s not latex-friendly). Therefore, you have to use a different (water-based) lube with condoms and certain toys.
The makers of Nude told me they are actually making something that won’t mess with latex. . .stay tuned.

Which leads me to. . .toys.
My friend Emily beat me to it and wrote a really great article about eco-friendly sex toys in Grist.
Here’s an excerpt (read the whole thing, it’s really informative):
Many popular erotic toys are made of polyvinyl chlorides (PVC) — plastics long decried by eco-activists for the toxins released during their manufacture and disposal — and softened with phthalates, a controversial family of chemicals. These include invitingly soft "jelly" or "cyberskin" items, which have grown popular in the last decade or so, says Carol Queen, Ph.D., "staff sexologist" for the San Francisco-based adult toy boutique Good Vibrations. "It’s actually difficult for a store today to carry plenty of items and yet avoid PVC," Queen says. "Its use has gotten pretty ubiquitous among the large purveyors, because it’s cheap and easy to work with."

In recent years, testing has revealed the potentially serious health impacts of phthalates. Studies on rats and mice suggest that exposure could cause cancer and damage the reproductive system. Minute levels of some phthalates have been linked to sperm damage in men, and this year, two published studies linked phthalate exposure in the womb and through breast milk to male reproductive issues.

A study in 2000 by German chemist Hans Ulrich Krieg found that 10 dangerous chemicals gassed out of some sex toys available in Europe, including diethylhexyl phthalates. Some had phthalate concentrations as high as 243,000 parts per million — a number characterized as "off the charts" by Davis Baltz of the health advocacy group Commonweal. "We were really shocked," Krieg told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Marketplace in a 2001 report on the sex-toy industry. "I have been doing this analysis of consumer goods for more than 10 years, and I’ve never seen such high results."

So what’s being done to protect consumers? Well, nothing. While the U.S., Japan, Canada, and the European Union have undertaken various restrictions regarding phthalates in children’s toys, no such rules exist for adult toys. In order to be regulated in the U.S. under current law, sex toys would have to present what the federal government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission calls a "substantial product hazard" — essentially, a danger from materials or design that, in the course of using the product as it’s made to be used, could cause major injury or death. But if you look at the packaging of your average mock penis or ersatz vagina, it’s probably been labeled as a "novelty," a gag gift not intended for actual use. That’s an important semantic dodge that allows less scrupulous manufacturers to elude responsibility for potentially harmful materials, and to evade government regulation. If you stick it somewhere it wasn’t meant to go, well — caveat emptor, baby!

Buyer beware, indeed!
Metal or glass dildos do an eco-girl or boy right.

The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex has more information on where and how to buy the kinds of toys that resonate with who you are – naughty, nice, or eco.

If you’re naughty and eco, you may be interested in the Burning Rubber Paddle catalogue.
John Unger has turned trash into treasure. He’s created custom paddles and floggers using new retread tire rubber (that’s new, but sold as scrap from the end of a tire roll). According to his website, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 250 million scrap tires are generated in the United States each year, not counting another 45 million scrap tires used to make retreads.”
Think of how much you’ll do for Mother Nature with each spank.

If you’re nice and eco, maybe harnessing the power of the sun is more your speed. You can purchase a solar powered vibrator from Toys in Babeland, my favorite women-friendly sex shop.
Meow.

Have a safe, sexy, sensuous, sustainable holiday!
Simran

Money Buys Happiness?

The role of money in creating or facilitating happiness is a subject of great interest to me. I find every individual has their own unique relationship with money. Here are some fascinating excerpts from a recent Wall Street Journal article on this topic:

"During the holidays, we will give thanks for the important things in our lives. For most people, money is not one of these things — at least this is what we would like others to think. We are after all constantly reminding each other that "money doesn’t buy happiness." Economists aren’t so sure.

They note that people with a lot of money tend to express a higher subjective happiness than people with very little. According data from surveys by the National Opinion Research Center, for example, people in the top fifth of income earners are about 50% more likely to say they are "very happy" than people in the bottom fifth, and only about half as likely to say they are "not too happy."

There is, however, generally very little change in the average level of happiness in populations getting richer over the years. For instance, the percentage of the U.S. population saying it was "very happy" in 1972 was exactly the same as it was in 2002: 30.3%. Social critics of "consumerism" explain this by claiming that what makes rich people happy is not money per se, but rather the fact that they have more of it than others — so if everybody gets richer, happiness remains unchanged.

…beyond earning, taxing and spending, there is an even clearer link between money and happiness: charity. The evidence is unambiguous that donating money (and time) is one of the best ways to buy happiness. People who donate to charity are 40% more likely to say they are "very happy" than non-donors. Psychologists have even tested whether charity makes people happy using randomized, controlled experiments — the same procedure used for testing pharmaceuticals, except that, instead of administering a drug to one group and a placebo to the other, researchers randomly assign one group to act charitably toward another. The results are clear: Givers of charity earn substantial mental and physical health rewards, even more than do the recipients of charity — empirical evidence that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive.

The bottom line is that the old axiom about money and happiness, properly understood, is quite wrong."

(Mr. Brooks (the author) is an associate professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Affairs)

So what do I think? When I was younger, I focused more on the negatives of money….and tended to notice when rich people were also unhappy. Over the years, after many courses on economics taught by compelling ‘free marketers’, after seeing the enormous positive impact economic liberalization has had on the India I am familiar with, and after getting practical experience making and spending it – I’ve come to view money as a powerful facilitator and enabler…and financial independence as a critical positive step in everyone’s life.

I’m getting ready to write some checks for my favorite charities before year end. It’s that time of year. Act now to get that tax break in the 2005 tax year….it can only help the way you feel.

Resources for Multilingual Families

Is childhood a western construct? Well, it’s certainly a post-industrial one. Before the industrial revolution, children were considered "little adults" with adult responsibilities of labor – just think David Copperfield.

There was little room for children’s play, nonetheless children’s literature. Can this have something to do with my trouble finding Bengali resources to help teach my children their mother’s tongue while growing up in the U.S.? What about the Indian economic boom – why hasn’t it improved children’s literature?

Or maybe it’s a question of imperialism, and economic power. As opposed to my husband, who has a plethora of German books, videos and DVDs at his disposal (ordered easily from a multitude of German language sites, including German amazon.com) to help him teach our children German, I have been extremely frustrated at the lack of child-friendly Bengali books and videos available to me. First world beats Third World again?

Am I expecting too much? Am I some kind of deluded foreign born Indian imposing my Western cultural notions on South Asia? Perhaps. I know very well that my children are extremely privileged compared to most of this world’s children, in that they can indulge in one of childhood and all of life’s major pleasures — stories. Yet, why is it that the Bengali speaking children in India and Bangladesh who are in a socioeconomic position to afford and worry about high quality picture books, videos or DVDs seem to want those resources in English and not their local language? Is it because it’s English that is the language of access and aspiration? And isn’t that a bit disturbing?

As most of you might know, I am a pediatrician of Indian (Bengali) descent living in the US and my husband, who is of German descent, and I have made it our family mission/life’s work to give our children access to both of their identities by teaching them German and Bengali from birth. As non-native speakers – children of immigrants – ourselves, we both feel strongly that knowledge of our languages have afforded us access to our countries, histories, families and cultures. In addition, unlike first generation immigrants, we are well aware of the difficulties of raising multilingual children – particularly in America, which is very, very English-centric and fairly nonsupportive of other languages. We have therefore not only spoken to our children (3yo and 1yo) solely in our own languages from birth, and tried to find playgroups and a sense of community for them, but have tried to supplement their learning with German and Bengli books, music CDs, interactive CDROMS, videos and DVDs.

Unfortunately, it has been our experience that it is infinitely more easy to find German materials of all sorts than Bengali ones. Although I have been searching in India and Bangladesh as well as in the UK and US, it is very difficult to find Bengali children’s materials which are character-driven, plot-oriented, non-violent, positive and of course of good quality.

I find that although my 3 year old son enjoys the Bengli songs and rhymes I find for him (in abundance)- his German language skills are particularly bolstered by the plethora of children’s character and plot-driven German story books and DVDs including Caillou, der kleine Konig (the little king), der kleiner Bear (the little Bear) to which my husband has access. What I have found in Bengali is usually highly inappropriate and frightening for a three year old – traditional stories of demons and ghosts, morality tales in which an evil tiger inevitably eats someone, etc. I have been longing to find Bengali materials that my son would not only enjoy but that would in addition reflect our family’s values of nonviolence and multiculturalism.

I have found some such materials in some UK based publishing companies which publish dual language books. I think the books are intended for ESL families – Bengali text of "Three Billy Goats Gruff" for the immigrant parent, English text for the England born child. I have been using them to teach my son Bengali (and I ignore the English text). But I’m longing to find more – particularly any plot based or character driven, nonviolent, gentle, cartoons or children’s DVDs. I’m also longing to speak to others who are raising their children to be multilingual.

Here are some good places I would recommend for folks looking for multilingual children’s resources in Asian languages, as well as South Asian cultural content in English
www.asiaforkids.com
www.desiknowledge.com

Mantralingua (UK bilingual publishing)
Millet (UK bilingual publishing)
East West Discovery Press
Biswas Music – has good Bengali music CDs for kids
Olive publishing in the US
For anyone looking for some funny Bengali children’s videos and great Indian content English lanuage cartoons, check out Manick Sorcar, who is magician PC Sorcar’s son and is a very interesting producer and cartoonist who also sells his products on the web

I would love to hear about any other resources people are aware of or anyone else’s experiences with multilingualism!

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