Worldly Concerns

Blog posts and other thoughts about the state of the world.

Five Ways Men Benefit from Women’s Empowerment

This is taken from a speech that I gave to the League of Women Voters of Marin County at Sausalito, California, on April 17, 2014. This article appeared on on April 27, 2014

What’s the most important thing men can do for themselves? The answer seems clear to me: work for the empowerment of women.

For the last 20 years I’ve described myself as feminist. This sometimes raises eyebrows. Women occasionally look at me skeptically, thinking maybe I’ve grabbed a phrase that I know little about. Men often take it as an indication that I’ve abandoned the “team” – some probably think I’m using it as a pick-up line. And, of course, I started describing myself as a feminist just about the time that the popular media gave up on the term and moved on to something else.

Nevertheless, I’ve reached the point where feminism has become the intellectual framework that I look to first in analyzing political, economic, and social issues. I find that it cuts through a lot of misinformation and distraction and gets to the core of a problem. The reason is simple. The empowerment of women is crucial to solving a lot of seemingly unrelated problems that are as important to men as they are to women.   Read More →

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Caught in the Data Mine

This is a slightly modified version of an article that appeared in on Dec. 19, 2013

Invasion of privacy became a national concern in the Watergate era. Now, 40 years later, it’s back again–moving at warp drive. The first time around it was J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon, roaming the halls of government, grabbing whatever private information they could find to attack their political foes. But even then it was clear that invasion of privacy was really a two-part problem. The issue isn’t just that a snooper might decide to grab some sensitive information. It’s equally important to consider what kind of sensitive information is being generated and how it could become so vulnerable.

Protecting the right of privacy has been a passion of mine ever since the Watergate era.

And when the next wave hits, it will be far worse. Technology continues to be the ally of the snooper. Future privacy-invaders will not only be more efficient in getting what they want, they will be much better able to cover their tracks. Informational systems used to have built-in limitations: the very bulk of the material maintained in the system imposed practical limitations on what an individual snooper could glean from the files. But the computer is rapidly depriving us of all that protection. At the same time we are increasing the personal information in public and private data banks, we are expanding geometrically the accessibility of that information to those who are bent on misusing it.

That paragraph is taken from my book Low Profile: How to Avoid the Privacy Invaders, which was published thirty-two years ago in 1981. I wrote it with the Nixon administration in mind, but the same paragraph could apply today to the NSA and its seemingly out-of-control band of snoopers. Read More →

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Were Women’s Rights Just a Congressional Afterthought?

When you look at U.S. Congressional history, it sometimes seems that the road to women’s equality has been paved in detours and oil slicks. Equal rights for women may eventually have been enacted into law, but the Congressional leadership did everything it could to ignore them.

One piece of that Congressional history was brought to light a month ago when former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs died at the age of 97. Boggs had succeeded her husband, Hale Boggs, as a Representative from Louisiana after he died in a plane crash. She went on to serve nine distinguished terms in the House until she retired. The N.Y. Times wrote a warm obituary for Ms. Blindy boggsoggs on July 27, 2013. The article talked about the key role she played in the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.

Lindy Boggs’ daughter, the journalist Cokie Roberts, had alluded to her mother’s role in that legislation when she visited our bookstore in California, Book Passage, on author-tour a few years ago. The N.Y. Times obituary confirmed what Ms. Roberts had hinted at the time: her mother had almost single-handedly secured equal credit rights for women.

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I May Have To Return to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies

Congressman Steve King (R. Iowa) is at it again.

King, who recently became infamous by referring to Latino children as drug mules, has reintroduced a bill in Congress that would probably revoke the citizenship of a whole lot of people. It’s no secret that King would like to deport many people who have been living in America for years, but this time I think he’s after me. I would have to go back to the Old Country – that is, if I can find it.

Right now, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that  “All persons born or naturalized in the United States”  are citizens of the United States. King and a number of his colleagues want to change that. They want to require that people born in the U.S. prove that their parents were legally in the country at the time of their birth to become citizens. The more I thought about that, the more I realized that I – and millions of others like me – would have to start packing our bags if this becomes the new legal standard.

Bay of Naples

Bay of Naples

The Bourbon Heir Apparent

A few years ago I was on a motor launch in the Bay of Naples and struck up a conversation with a man I’d met a day earlier at a literary event on the Island of Capri. He had a great job, managing the major outdoor festivals in the region. But that was just his day job.

His real claim to fame was his royal lineage. He was second in line (behind his older brother) to the throne of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Bourbon monarchy that was overthrown in 1860 by Garibaldi and his army of Redshirts.  From that point on, Italy became unified under another monarchy – the House of Savoy, which had its roots in the north. In fairness to this young convention-manager, he wasn’t obsessing over his lost throne. He seemed to realize that his title was a bit of an anachronism. He was resigned to the fact that the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies wasn’t coming back anytime soon.

But maybe I shouldn’t have been so dismissive. The way things are going in Congress, I may need to renew my acquaintance with him and find out if his old kingdom has any place that I can call my own. Read More →

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