Nigella Lawson and the can of worms known as domestic abuse

Nigella Lawson at a Borders book-signing

Nigella Lawson at a Borders book-signing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As images of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson being attacked by her art collector husband Charles Saatchi went viral online, it led to a maelstrom of debate that surrounds all narratives of celebrity domestic abuse.

The overt, more often implicit, blame was on Nigella for not “standing up for herself” and for going back to tweeting cutesy food pictures a couple of hours after the attack. Australian radio jockey Dee Dee Dunleavy went so far as to call for a boycott of Nigella’s books.

We think you are strong, beautiful and successful. We imagine your home is warm and smells of cinnamon, and if we dropped in we’d get a hug and a feed. We don’t like to think of you cowering from a thug. A man so boldly abusive he had no qualms about attacking you in public. Nigella, like it or not, you’re a beacon for women from all walks of life. If you want us to buy your books and watch your shows on how to run our kitchens, then we need you to make a stand on domestic violence.

This isn’t very different from the public outcry that greeted Rihanna’s decision to get back together with her ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, with whom she had split up after he physically assaulted her. (She has since broken up with him.)Continue reading

Zombiefied: Social media and the rise of the zombie culture

“Why is Go Goa Gone a zombie movie? And come to think of it, why the hell is Brad Pitt doing a zombie movie?! ? Why? I hate zombies!”

“Relax, we are going to see a zombie apocalypse soon anyway.”

Those pearls of wisdom from the husband got me thinking – aren’t we, in a way, already seeing a zombification of society?

Traditionally, a zombie is an animated corpse resurrected by mystical means, such as witchcraft. The term is often figuratively applied to describe a hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli. (Wikipedia)

Look around you – at the mall, in the garden, on the road – and you’ll find people walking around with their nose buried in their smartphone. Chances are they’re either Tweeting or Facebooking or texting.Continue reading

It's all about the model, honey: Why India's newspaper industry is set to grow and grow

Recently, I wrote about how app papers are cannibalizing print newspapers, focusing on the US perspective on the newspaper industry and the monetization of digital content. At the back of my mind I was already wondering about the relevance of that trend in the Indian market.

In India, newspapers are still doing very well. In fact, the newspaper industry is expected to grow from INR174 billion in 2010 to INR246 billion in 2013.

I believe there are a few factors that set the Indian newspaper market apart. First is the low literacy level in the country, due to which newspaper penetration is low. But as literacy rates improve, so does the market potential. Tied to that is the fact that only a small percentage of Indians have access to technology. Case in point is internet penetration, which stands at just 6.9%, implying that a huge part of the Indian population is still reading the printed paper because they do not have access to an internet connection.

Second, unlike in the US, we don’t have to go to a newsstand to buy a copy of the paper every day – the paper is home delivered at no extra cost to subscribers. With that model, the number of people opting out of receiving a newspaper is limited. Moreover, newspapers are very cheap – the monthly bill for one newspaper rarely exceeds INR 200 (and that’s on the high side). It’s no wonder then that since the past few years, circulation figures of most Indian newspapers have grown by about 5% per year.

Further, the editorial integrity of print in India, and the trust that print brands are able to command vis-à-vis other media, is very high. India also has a large number of established print brands compared to the US America, where there are only really two big print brands.

Add to the mix the large number of regional languages spoken across the country, with newspapers available in all of these languages. In fact, according to the Indian Readership Survey (IRS), the Hindi-language Dainik Jagran has the highest average issue readership of 16,393,000, significantly more than the average readership of the top English-language newspaper Times of India, with 7,471,000 (figures for the second quarter of 2011).

With such a huge audience base, it should come as no surprise that print advertising grew by 16% year-over-year in the first half of 2011, with newspapers accounting for 96% of ad jobs.

Moreover, when it comes to the app story, just 10% of mobile phone users in India have a smartphone.

Even the recent introduction of 3G services is unlikely to make a major dent on the Indian newspaper industry due to all of the factors above. After all, with strong brands, high editorial integrity and nominal pricing, the likelihood of new media impacting core readership and threatening the value delivered is marginal.

Nevertheless, the industry cannot ignore the trends in the developed market, as it is sure to become reality in the years to come.

I for one am not likely to pay for access to news when there are so many free (and excellent) alternatives available out there.

What’s your take? Would you pay to access paid news content online?

Are apps cannibalizing print newspapers?

When I go back home on holiday, my morning routine is to fix myself a cup of tea and head down to the garden with a newspaper. I spend about an hour leisurely sipping a hot cuppa and reading the paper from cover to cover (well, almost!). Every time I return back, I promise myself that I will get up earlier so that I can read at least the headlines and a couple of stories before I rush off to work. But, I’m a late sleeper and a late riser, and reading the newspaper is something that I just cannot fit in to my morning rush to get to work. I used to try to get onto a newspaper website before I started the day at office so I was not totally oblivious to the world around me, but that didn’t always happen.

Then, I bought my iPhone and was initiated into the world of apps. The New York Times (NYT), Hindustan Times and NDTV were among the first few apps I downloaded. Of these, the NYT app is my absolute favorite. The headlines and the entire news story are downloaded when you start the app, and you can read them whenever you have a few moments to spare. I generally download the news as I run around getting ready, and then quickly scan through interesting news stories whenever I am stuck in traffic. You just gotta love technology, right?

Given our increasingly busy lifestyles and the proliferation of the internet and smartphones, it’s no wonder that newspapers (especially in the US) are seeing subscriber numbers fall. To deal with the loss of subscribers and declining ad sales, a few publishers are once again putting their online content behind a pay wall. The NYT has started asking users to pay up if they want unlimited access to digital content, and News Corp. put so much faith in the proliferation of content on tablets and on the success of Apple’s offering that it launched an iPad only subscription news magazine The Daily.

Are these moves warranted? Recent figures seem to say yes.

Paid subscriptions to read News Corp’s Wall Street Journal on tablets (Kindle, Nook, iPad and Android tablets) quadrupled to 200,000 in 2010 from about 50,000 a year ago. Though this may be a very small figure compared to the 1.6 million print copies that are circulated each day, it is a huge leap forward, and may well be the start of a brand new trend. Who knows, the day might come when people will have to go a museum to see what a printed newspaper looked like!

What’s your take? Do you prefer to read a newspaper the old fashioned way, or have you moved online?

A strike against women: pro-life bills could muzzle women's right to choose

Cover of "The Blind Assassin"

The Blind Assassin

Recently, I’ve been reading books and watching movies related to women’s rights (or lack thereof) and their suppression by the men in their family. It wasn’t a conscious choice, it’s just something that happened by chance. It started with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, in which she devotes almost an entire chapter to marriages of convenience in the 1930s. Such marriages were very prevalent in India even until a decade ago – and still are in a number of communities. These are marriages between families, where oftentimes the woman isn’t really given much choice in the matter. The men, of course, can choose – and that choice was almost always based on something as transient as looks. In Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, the main protagonist, Iris, was married off to industrialist Richard Griffin to save her family’s factories. The novel follows her disastrous marriage and the sexual abuse her sister suffered at the hands of her husband. Both of these books present the plight of the woman as a thing of the past, but not Bol. This is a bold movie to have come out of Pakistan recently, and highlights the plight of women, who are subjected to the tyranny of the male head of the house, in the present day. The movie deals with a number of important issues in that country – birth control, discrimination against gays, and the lack of choice for women. Some would think these issues are currently faced mainly by developing countries. They would be wrong.

As I read The Men Behind The War on Women on Huffington Post recently, I was shocked and enraged at the blatant disregard displayed by The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with regard to women’s reproductive health.

“Over the past two years the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has launched one of the most extreme assaults on women’s choice the U.S. has seen in decades. Republicans voted twice to slash federal family planning funds for low-income women, moved to prevent women from using their own money to buy insurance plans that cover abortion, introduced legislation that would force women to have ultrasounds before receiving an abortion and, most recently, passed a bill that will allow hospitals to refuse to perform emergency abortions for women with life-threatening pregnancy complications. But the erosion of women’s rights didn’t begin with the GOP takeover…Lift the curtain, and behind the assault was the conference of bishops.”

Abortion Stops a Beating Heart Sign

Abortion stops a beating heart (Image by wht_wolf9653 via Flickr)

As if this weren’t enough, the Catholic Bishops have now launched a high-intensity campaign against birth control. Yes. Against.

I thought it was only the poor and uneducated lot who still thought that birth control was a direct affront to the heavens and that once married, women were supposed to set up a baby production factory. Apparently, I was wrong. The church, of course, has always been anti-abortion, but to take away choice from women, even in the case of rape, incest or complications and potential danger to the mother’s life, is barbaric.

The bishops are now lobbying against The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) insurance coverage guidelines stating that all health plans under the Affordable Care Act cover birth control at no cost for women. Although the rules offer religious exemption to churches, Catholic-affiliated organizations such as charities and hospitals would still have to cover birth control for their employees.

Arguing that the exemption is too narrow, the bishops want the Obama administration to either entirely remove the coverage of birth control or to offer an exemption to all Catholic organizations. This would mean that thousands of women who work for these organizations, even if they are not themselves Catholic, would be denied the preventative health coverage options available to most other women in the US.

The Department of Health and Human Services he...

HQ of the HHS

If you thought the bishops were lobbying for these measures only on religious grounds, you would be wrong. They’re fighting because of the large sums of money at stake. The HHS recently dropped the bishops from a five-year, $19 million contract to help victims of sexual trafficking. The bishops think they were dropped because they do not offer victims the full range of contraceptive and gynecological services, such as abortion referrals, birth control pills and condoms, provided by other agencies.

At the end of the day, then, it is the lure of money that is going to strip women of their rights and choice when it comes to their personal reproductive health and even their life.

Bishop William Lori defends the bishops’ actions thus: “We recognize that not everybody shares that teaching; nevertheless, it is a fundamental right for the church to stand by their convictions.” Doesn’t this reek of duplicity? By forcing legislation that will deny birth control and abortion to millions of women, the bishops are effectively imposing their views on the fundamental rights of individuals.

The Anti-Abortionists

An anti-abortion rally (Image by K. Praslowicz)

What’s probably worse, though, is that this isn’t the only legislation in question. Women across US states have lost major ground this year. Already, about 80 measures have been enacted to restrict access to abortion, all of which violate international human rights standards. These include Ohio’s ban on abortion once a heartbeat can be detected (6–10 weeks’ gestation); and a state ballot initiative in Mississippi, which if passed, would mandate personhood from the moment of fertilization. This could potentially outlaw the most popular forms of contraception; would treat destroyed eggs as murder victims, essentially making abortion illegal; and would prohibit scientists from destroying embryos created in laboratories, a process that is often required during in vitro fertilization and scientific research.

No matter what your individual stand on abortion might be, most of these measures go against a number of commonly accepted reproductive and human rights. Indeed, as the world moves towards decriminalizing abortion, one of the most developed nations is effectively muzzling women’s right to choice.

Twinkie diet: a breakthrough for dieters?

twinkie-diet-professor

Image via CNN Health

 A nutrition professor’s “unhealthy” Twinkie cake diet has created quite a storm lately. I saw a couple of tweets mention it yesterday, and then this morning, one of the blogs featured on Freshly Pressed on WordPress talked about the diet. In her post, Sweet Tooth, Sweet Life says:

“The man significantly cut his recommended daily calories…OF COURSE he’s going to lose weight!!!

Intrigued, I read through the article on CNN Health …and realized a couple of things…

  • Mark Haub is a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University who undertook this diet as a class experiment for a month. When he saw the benefits of the diet, he continued it until he reached a normal body mass index.
  • While on the diet:
    • He shed 27 pounds in two months
    • His body mass index went from 28.8 (overweight) to 24.9 (normal)
    • His “bad” cholesterol (LDL) dropped 20% and his “good” cholesterol (HDL) increased 20%
    • He reduced the level of triglycerides, a form of fat, by 39%
  • Haub consumed less than 1,800 calories a day on the diet, about 800 calories less than a man of Haub’s pre-dieting size usually consumes — 2,600 calories. Such a drastic reduction may not be “healthy,” but then apparently, eating only junk, processed food is “unhealthy” too!
  • Another interesting fact — to control the number of calories he consumed, Haub avoided meat, whole grains and fruits. Once he added meat into the diet, his cholesterol level increased.

Haub had set out to prove that in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most — not the nutritional value of the food. As the above markers show, his premise held up.

Haub says: “That’s where the head scratching comes. What does that mean? Does that mean I’m healthier? Or does it mean how we define health from a biology standpoint, that we’re missing something?”

Before his Twinkie diet, Haubb tried to eat a healthy diet that included whole grains, dietary fiber, berries and bananas, vegetables and occasional treats like pizza. But he says that there seemed to be a disconnect between eating healthy and being healthy. “It may not be the same. I was eating healthier, but I wasn’t healthy. I was eating too much.”

This indicates that what really matters is portion control and moderation, rather than total removal and denial.

“I just think it’s unrealistic to expect people to totally drop these foods for vegetables and fruits. It may be healthy, but not realistic.” — Mark Haub

To all the nay-sayers and people who are up in arms at this unhealthy diet, I say don’t look at what he ate, look at what he proved!

Will I go out and start buying processed junk and throw out the veggies and fruits? No! But the next time I feel like some indulgence, I won’t feel so guilty no more!

Here’s what I learnt from Haub’s breakthrough experiment:

  • Count. Your. Calories.
  • Reduce meat consumption.
  • Be aware of portion control — just because something is healthy, doesn’t mean you can eat it in huge quantities!
  • Junk doesn’t deserve the bad rep it’s got — consumed knowledgably, it ain’t gonna kill ya!

Of course, a much longer-term study will need to be carried out to find out what affects the lack of fruits and vegetables could have on long-term health. In the meanwhile, the next time you’re dieting, if you really feel like that packet of chips, reach out for it. Just be aware of the number of calories you consumed!

So, what do you think about the Twinkie diet?

My name is my identity, or is it?

Image via stanford2008

Would I ever change my name? No! Why? Because I love my name – it’s musical and has a beautiful meaning. It’s also unique, and I like that!

Most of all, though, I think this topic brings up a bigger question for me – a question of identity.

We go through life with various labels — girlfriend, wife, mother, employee, friend…the list goes on, but which of these really defines us? None of these labels is all-encompassing. If someone asks me who I am, my answer would change based on the context, my life experiences at the time, or maybe even my mood! But is that really my identity?

I don’t think so. My identity is my name — a window into my culture and myself, linking me with my parents and my spirituality — combined with my belief system, values and preferences.

What do you think is your identity? Given a chance, would you like to change your name?

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A case for simple living

Happiness

Where has the happiness gone?
Image via Wikipedia

About a year ago I had written a post titled Jaded Consumerism, where I mentioned that I’ve increasingly noticed that buying material goods doesn’t seem to bring much happiness to me or my friends. Oh yes, there are exceptions — like when I bought my iPhone recently; it still makes me happy! But, overall, we purchase without the joy.

This week I finally gave in to the husband’s constant cribbing and we traded our 10-year old TV for an LCD. That should have brought us (or at least him) a lot of joy…but it didn’t. We bought it, got it installed, he played around with the remote and read the manual, but there was no thrill to the purchase. A TV is a TV is a TV is what I was saying all along, but the husband just wouldn’t listen, would he?

Jokes apart, though, I’ve been wondering about this lack of joy since a while, and then I read an article on NY Times titled But will it make you happy?

SHE had so much. A two-bedroom apartment. Two cars. Enough wedding china to serve two dozen people. Yet Tammy Strobel wasn’t happy. Working as a project manager with an investment management firm in Davis, Calif., and making about $40,000 a year, she was, as she put it, caught in the “work-spend treadmill.”

That was the opening of the article, and I was hooked, because that’s exactly what I had been thinking about!

Strobel eventually hit the stop button on the treadmill, inspired by books and blogs that promoted simple living. She and her husband gave away a lot of their possessions to charity. In fact, “emboldened” by a website that challenged readers to live with just 100 personal items, she went ahead and did just that!

Description unavailable

A case for simple living
Image by eflon via Flickr

I’m quite sure that mustn’t have been easy, and I’m pretty sure that it isn’t something that I could do! But, living simply does have its benefits.

If you can downsize your desires a bit, not bother so much about keeping up with the Joneses, you could end up saving quite a decent amount of money. Instead of spending that on purchasing more material goods, you could use that to travel, to do some volunteer work, or even to help family, all of which will give you infinitely more happiness than simply amassing material goods ever will. And a lot of new research shows just that!

Studies over the last few decades have shown that money, up to a certain point, makes people happier because it lets them meet basic needs. The latest round of research [examines] how to reap the most happiness for your dollar. So just where does happiness reside for consumers? Scholars and researchers haven’t determined whether Armani will put a bigger smile on your face than Dolce & Gabbana. But they have found that our types of purchases, their size and frequency, and even the timing of the spending all affect long-term happiness. One major finding is that spending money for an experience — concert tickets, French lessons, sushi-rolling classes, a hotel room in Monaco — produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff.

If I could control my spending impulses, there are a lot of things that I’d be able to experience — a trip to Egypt , learning Italian, painting a canvas, going on an African safari — just a few of the things that are on my bucket list.

If you chose to live simple and spend on experiences instead, what experiences would you choose?

You can read the entire NY times article here.

All aTwitter

Once upon a time, I used to read posts about how technology and social media have made face-to-face interactions passé. Once upon a time, I used to shake my head and say “not me.”

Recently, though, I find that I have a very strong relationship with my phone – so strong, in fact, that when I think the husband is ignoring me, I ignore him back…and forget that he’s there as I get engrossed with one application or another on my iPhone.

And today, I finally bit the bullet and signed up on Twitter! Do I hear you ask why now? Maybe because as I was browsing around the Internet today, I finally woke up to the fact that everyone and their cousin was on Twitter. Maybe I thought it would be nice to finally see why even the most reluctant of people are signing up for the service. Or maybe I thought it would be a cool way to keep in touch with breaking news. I’m not sure what the exact impulse was, but there I am, in all my glory, on Twitter!

Wanna follow me? Just click on the Twitter button on the navigation bar on the side and hear me tweet away!

Dagny Taggart, or Scarlett O'Hara, or maybe…

Over at Plinky.com, the prompt was to choose which book character you’d want to be. As I thought about it while idly browsing through some of the answers, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to come up with just one character. I mean, how can I ever let anything be that simple?! So, here are just a few of the characters that I would absolutely love to be!

Dagny Taggart, the protagonist of Atlas Shrugged. She’s smart, intelligent and objective; takes independent decisions without bowing down to the baseness and commonality of society; she’s the epitome of woman as an equal to man without having to shout about it from the rooftops. By extension, I’d also like to be Hank Rearden – who though he knows the value of his metal isn’t able to see the shallowness of character in his mother and wife because he doesn’t think like that – and so wrongly believes that no one else does – or even John Galt, who shows all people who love their work above all else the “light.”

Scarlet O’Hara, the flighty, tempestuous heroine of one of my all-time favorite books – Gone With the Wind. I love her flirtatiousness, her verve and vigor for life. She’s selfish to the core and knows how to use her charms to get exactly what she wants. In love with the idea of love, she fails to see that Rhett Butler, not Ashley Wilkes is the love of her life. (I was lucky enough to not have made that mistake!) But when push comes to shove, she rises to the occasion and through determination, sheer will, and good old fashioned shrewdness, keeps her family together and drags them out of poverty.

Harry Potter, the wizard who was able to survive the dark wizard Voldermort’s killing spell. With the love of his mother as protection, a lil help from his friends, and an inquisitive mind, he’s able to triumph over evil time and again.

Lady Mutnodjmet, Nefertiti’s younger sister, protagonist of Michelle Moran’s Nefertiti. A herbalist, level-headed character who gives up most of her life to ensure that her family’s name isn’t forgotten in the sands of time.

And of course, this list can’t be complete without my favorite childhood characters – Nancy Drew and Mr. Pink Whistle! The first, my teenage hero – the fearless mystery detective – the second, my absolute favorite childhood fantasy – the magical Mr. Pink Whistle, who quietly does good and sets things right. I can read his books even today and still be fascinated by him! (Shhh! Don’t tell!)

So, which are your favorite book character(s)?

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