Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Park Avenue Matrons Living Under Bridges

Last Monday, New York's own DPC wrote a moving account in New York Social Diary about the disasters that befell a moneyed couple --Meet the Gotrocks. The very wealthy husband, apparently from a storied family, not only got his wife's closest friend pregnant with a daughter the "friend" had longed for, and then ran off with said "friend," but also bankrupted his wife and left her to bring up their two sons without any means, leaving their house up for grabs in a specially pre-rigged foreclosure as a kicker. The new couple, so craftily constituted, eventually got their cruel comeuppance, but there are some things about this story and others like it that should be re-examined whenever possible and kept in the limelight.

First, it's not that rare in America for a woman to get badly cheated and at the same time be thoroughly and publicly villified in the course of a divorce, whether or not she was to blame for the collapse of the marriage in the first place. How badly it turns out seems to be predetermined in inverse proportion to the wealth of her husband, with no serious competition from any other factor or quarter. Secondly, whatever the husband's or wife's wrongdoing, the loss of property and support usually devolves on the wife, even in her ongoing role as a mother, and with absolutely no concern for the children's actual suffering (as opposed to their suffering as measured by professional obfuscators in court). This is a huge miscarriage of justice which should have no place in a civilized society.

The part of this scenario that's getting glossed over is that this business of macerating women in artificially created financial woes during their childbearing years is deliberately carried out by professionals who are astonishingly well-compensated for pulling it off. Most men, especially ones divorcing for the first time, have no clue how to destroy their former wives without professional help. The point is, though, that husbands can get that help if they pay for it, and that women can't get the same help, even if they do pay for it. Unfortunately, the convention of saying that this party or that did such and such a thing to the other, when actually his or her lawyer or both lawyers together did all of it, covers up the fact that much of the conflict supposedly going on between husbands and wives during a divorce is in fact a conflation of hostilities instigated and carried out by their attorneys -- whenever the attorneys see an opportunity to rack up more billable hours. Somewhere in the middle of this, the wife becomes the one everyone wants to squeeze into a corner and drain of all resources. If she's a stay-at-home mother, she may become indigent. If she's an investment banker or a partner at a leading law firm, she ends up holding down a position of responsibility while living under seige, and often supporting her Ex and his lover or lovers as well as the children, whether she has custody of the children or not.

Nothing visible in the statutes could support the deliberate impoverishment of former wives who are also mothers in the process of bringing up children. In fact, the whole game I'm talking about is designed specifically to circumvent exactly those provisions and statutory guidelines (e.g., see DRL 236 by searching findlaw at the link to the right, above) that are designed to protect women and children in these situations. Getting around these statutes is taken for granted, though, as in all other matters, and it happens to families because there are whole cadres of parasitic professionals out there, who may not be up to speed when it comes to commercial litigation, but who make a brisk living anyway, paying their own hefty mortgages and sending their children to college, all by means of making hay on the very personal, indeed the sexual misfortunes of others.

I remember the late, mercurial Justice Lewis R. Friedman, who did so much in an effort to straighten things out during his time on the matrimonial bench at the NY State Supreme Court , addressing a gathering of matrimonial lawyers at the New York Bar Association back in 1996.


Judge Friedman urged the vast and jam-packed room full of matrimonial lawyers to bear in mind that "all these people did not build their lives, their careers, their homes and their investment portfolios just to hand everything over to you." That same evening, the youngest judge then on the State Court bench, also taking her turn in Matrimonial, as all the judges in State Court must, admonished attorneys not to bring so many junk motions before her about who was to have custody of Young Timmy (if I recall correctly) over Thanksgiving and Hannukah -- just to make another quick $15K. (Back then, in the good old days, that was it.) She objected to the lawyers calling her at home exactly when she was trying to get a turkey out of the oven, just to show their clients they had access. This was doing nothing, she said, for the child who was supposedly the object of all the frenzy.The attorneys seemed to listen respectfully, yet I noticed that, actually, the most salient thing under consideration for most of them seemed to be how each one who rose to speak in response pronounced pendente lite. The fancy lawyers identified themselves by ostentatiously using the "correct" or nominally Anglo-Latin version (pen-den-té leeté), while others resorted to anything upto and including "Pan-Dante Lite" (as in Coors). Afterwards, the panel moderator, a well-known matrimonial lawyer, left in a limo with his wife, a bestselling author -- he in black tie and she in slinky couture -- apparently for a long and festive evening that lay ahead of them.

Mark Green, who is running for Attorney-General this year, helped reform the system somewhat several years ago, resulting in a few refinements to improve attorney-client relations, but there’s obviously still a long way to go. It's been a while, too, since we heard from Karen Winner, the journalist who wrote the book called "Divorced from Justice."

A few years ago, one brave woman put up a valiant fight against this callousness and debauchery, despite a stream of assorted professionals -- lawyers and court-appointed guardians and a host of other players -- charging her outrageous sums willy-nilly, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars each, in the course of her divorce from her billionaire husband. Her husband, who had a team of faithful lawyers on auto-pilot, hardly had to lift a finger to make lawyers on both sides dance to his tune, or indeed to compose and perform arias in his praise in court and to the press. This woman stood her ground, no matter how arcane and tangled the game became. Of course, as a result, she was thoroughly reviled in the popular media on completely separate topics of chatter, by folks who may well have known less than nothing about the laws that were being sidestepped in her personal debacle. Even so, the whole cabal didn't manage to wreck her life, despite taking her for untold amounts of cash, messing up her finances, and allowing such untrue things to be written and said about her in court papers and at hearings that those assertions themselves would have been grounds for separate lawsuits, had they been shared with the general public. These lawyers never expected her to go underground or become an activist, but that is what she did do and what she did become! She writes to say that this site and this organization are the ones to watch.

My own novel solution to the problem, which was to go pro se, took me on a path that, strange to say, has brought me some personal satisfaction, adequate protection, and frequent moral vindication, though not a lot of money. Even this is not available to most women. The least I can do for others is make what I've learned in the process generally known, and I am figuring out how to do it, even while I tackle more of the same BS...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Generational Shift?

This evening at The Asia Society, a panel discussion co-hosted by Stanford about the changing conditions and outlook in East Asian countries revealed a perceptible shift in perspective between two generations of experts in America.

The panel of highly sophisticated and eminent scholars, including a former senior diplomat, was moderated by
Coit Blacker and explored the relationships between economic development and polity, as well as the emergence of new styles of nationalism across North and South East Asia. The two younger members of the panel appeared to take the position that they serve as expert facilitators, advisors and observers. Their elders, variously, still brought to the discussion an assumption that the role of the US remains a supervisory one, requiring an ROI, as it were, in terms of support for US foreign policy, or a belief that emerging democracies remain in substantial need of American guidance.

Michael Armacost praised the speed and efficiency with which the Japanese National Diet had passed laws to facilitate non-combat support for the war on terror. He measured the success of America’s decision to support Japan’s Imperial house in the aftermath of WW II in terms of Japan’s ongoing diplomatic collaboration afterwards, and in that vein also expressed a little impatience with Yoichiro Koizumi’s present insistence on visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. In a nearly contemporaneous though substantively different style, Donald Emmerson noted that the emergence of democracy in Indonesia did not guarantee the rule of law, but rather it often opened the door to corrupt practices.

Harry Harding, on the other hand, spoke about the uneven effects of industrial and commercial development in China, both with respect to environmental issues and political questions of equality of access and agency. Yet he also noted the emergence in China of professional classes as intermediaries, including litigators who are nowadays ready and willing to work pro bono to take on the Chinese Government on development-related issues. He also spoke of his obviously well-measured perception that there is a need and preference among Chinese citizens for a continuing American presence. Gi Wook Shin pointed out that the average Korean is much better informed about foreign affairs than most Americans, and that this deficit needs to be addressed. He described the new generation of South Koreans’ belief that their blood ties to North Koreans supersede the hostilities which were concluded over fifty years ago. This put me in mind of what is happening now between India and Pakistan, regardless of who takes credit for the move to reconciliation. Boundaries drawn by Western powers will inevitably be challenged or rendered redundant or otherwise amended over time– I am always amazed that there is no ongoing hullabaloo about the fact that the Durand Line expired ten years ago...

Agreeably, every one of these expert observers noted that nationalism is not always linked to martial initiatives or to a search for strategic advantage in regional affairs, but can function effectively as a spur to economic growth and political development.

serendipitously, this event put another discussion I went to last week into perspective. Tom Webber, whose book, 'Flying Over 96th Street', is out now, addressed Spence parents at a meeting of the PA subgroup called TAPESTRY, about his experiences growing up between East Harlem and Collegiate, and summering in Maine. As a bona fide resident of East Harlem from the late 'Fifties onward, he understood many subtleties about the lives of his contemporaries in the 'hood, and about their families too, which eluded his parents -- learned and hard-working as they were. At first, he made contact with boys his own age at the basketball courts, but eventually relinquished basketball for academic work, so as to follow his forbears to Harvard, the better to return to East Harlem, where he still lives. He was a trifle shy about sharing his argot, and seemed pleased when we all burst out laughing.

It seems that in order for Tom of El Barrio to return to his neighborhood, in those days the best alternative for him was to assume an instructive and ameliorative role in the community. This he did as the founder and Executive Director of The Edwin Gould Academy at 104th and Lex, a coed boarding school for teens in the foster care and juvenile justice systems -- until institutional foster care was supplanted by family therapy programs.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Walking for Miles in My Pedicure

T writes:
i got a manicure today to prepare for [my interview] and after the lady finished, she turned on ricky martin and started hula hooping with a rainbow hoop 'for exercise' which was the only thing she said to me other than 'cut cuticle?' (no) 'you pay now?' (yes) and 'one coat or two?' (two) all the while jabbering away to her buddy."

I'm giving both my feet a rest from the
subtly progressive cruelty of salon pedicures, and letting them run wild for as long as it takes to get them back to square one -- oh yes, indeed!

pictures from the Chitresh Das Company(above)
and from (below)

Years ago, I used to learn Kathak Dance. Over one summer in particular, I learned, among other things, that continually spinning twenty-seven times in one spot on Venetian Red Portland Cement floors while wearing as many kilos of brass bells (ankle weights) as your Kathak Master and his art require can make your feet get defensive and try to turn into hooves.

Some time before then, my father had brought me my first Credo planer from Germany, just like the one above. That summer, I started to use it - timidly at first, then growing bolder. My mother maintained that I had the feet of a football player, which I couldn't qute visualize, functionally speaking. Would that actually have been a barefoot soccer player, I wondered, and if so, why would the design of my toes in particular be more useful, say, than her own? Was it that I had my father's feet, and ought to be playing soccer instead? That didn't seem to suit. Being primed in two ways, and having the tool close to hand, I quickly saw that the solution lay in planing down my feet into something more balletic -- so I became an adept.

pictures from

During the ascendancy of the callus planer in New York City over the ensuing decades, I believed myself to be very much ahead of the curve. No matter how many dire warnings I saw posted in the nail salons, I insisted on handling the planer myself, to the tittering astonishment of some pedicurists and the respectful understanding of others. Entire salons accepted my privileged, off-the-record relationship with the most threatening item among their paraphernalia. Then, I let things get out of hand. I started allowing people I hardly knew to cut my cuticles. Now, a cuticle lies over the nailplate for a reason-- it protects the matrix from infection and small animals. See for yourself in the diagram above. Pushing it back to make the nail bed look longer separates the cuticle from the nail plate, Should this occur without any help from a pedicurist, it would be cause for alarm. Adding injury to insult, nibbling at the edges with clippers leaves very little and very ragged cover for the matrix at all.

The problem with letting strangers approach your somewhat roughened and desensitized skin with sharp objects, while you bury you nose in a magazine and turn on the electric massager of the Comfy Chair, is that you really don't know what's going down. It took me a while to realize that people had been chipping away at the tops of my other toes with cuticle clippers and progressively digging into my nail folds (and by these means producing an onycholisis on each side with toe nail nippers -- a precondition to paronychia) for aesthetic reasons best known to themselves. Since it was all covered up by the polish of my choice afterwards, and I never watched when the polish got removed the next time around, the existing damage that was uncovered each time must have been a clear and cheerful invitation to even more of the same type of assault.

Podiatrists and Chiropodists hardly ever venture into the art of pedicure, unless glossy magazines interview them about extreme pedicures, otherwise known as surgery, but your garden variety pedicurist will seldom hesitate to rush right in -- is the sad fact. Sadder still, most pedicurists don't see any purpose to the bits that stand in the way of the ideal look they have in mind. Plus, like waiters at many restaurants, they are supposed to sell up their services ("Cut cuticle? No? Awwww.....just push back? Tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk....").

Eighteen months ago, I visited a salon that ran babbling fountains and humidifiers in soothing, dimly rainbow-lighted semi-darkness, while New Age music played softly, and downlights, luxuriously restricted to the foot area of the reclining chairs, made the proceedings invisible to all but the pedicurists. Not to blame it entirely on atmosphere, I confess that by this time my toes were veering slightly inwards in pre-bunion displacement. I don't blame myself too much for this. Except for the spate of square-toed shoes a few years ago, there aren't many shoes that are actually made to accomodate feet. I mean, how many women-- and this is not true of men's shoes-- have their longest toes in the middle?

Photo by Paula Gramlich

So okay, my big toes were getting skewed because which woman can get by without ever wearing even thesimplest pumps once in a while? That day, I had worn sandals with a peeping toes arrangement at the front. When I was all done and merrily stepping out into the afternoon sun, I saw, to my great amazement and dismay, that the nail beds of my big toes had been turned on the diagonal by the simple expedient of gouging back and and slicing off only the inside (arch side) corners of the cuticles and cutting the nails on the diagonal as well, parallel to the reformed cuticle line. Peeking through the cut out bit at the top of my sandals, the nails apeared to compensate for my peri-bunion situation and grow straight ahead, at least in terms of my sandals. Of course, as soon as I took them off, this gave the lie to the illusion, and it ws clear that I now had more or less diamond-shaped toenails, relative to the orientation of my toes. I confess I struggled for a year to get other and different pedicurists to correct my outrageous misfortune, under my own stern micro-management and steady complaint, before I saw a lot of other terrible things also going on with my feet. Then, I decided to learn to love salicylic acid and pumice stones, and went On Vacation From Pedicures Altogether...

hulahoopgirl from


Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Book and Its Covers: Amartya Sen - 'The Argumentative Indian'

Four months on, and I'm still excavating my way through Dr. Sen's attractively wrapped oevre, and I think this is because of his overwhelming taste for paralipsis. Almost every statement demands that I turn the three or four sentences that contain it over and under and around and about, to dismantle an example of proslepsis, or inspect a novel application of apophasis, and then search the double and triple negatives and other figures of circumlocution, just to see if the presentation could have been accomplished by any other means. This creates a sort of resistance to the idea itself, so that by the time I've processed the meaning through the manner, my mind is all aglow with the effort, like the filament in an incandescent bulb, and I feel terribly clever, occasionally delighted, and sometimes irritated to have got the point at all - although all I'm doing is reading his speeches turned into essays. Far be it from me to say that it's taking me nearly as long to read it as it must have taken Dr. Sen to write it - yet, I constantly ask myself as I read, does this make me nearly as much The Argumentative Indian as Amartya Sen himself?

This slow-reading setup means that the book has been lying open with its spine unconscionably stretched at every point where I gave up the game for the time being, often upside down, since I am bad and don't use bookmarks or even those pesky subscription things that float out of The New Yorker. The jacket I have is the last one down on this page, designed by Anna Bauer for the First American Edition, with artwork by Kailash Raj. For all I know, the other covers were created by the same team. I like the one I have best, because it is detailed, layered and richly disposed to keep that meaningful Kangra painting look, so I'm here, and quite unfairly have the prettiest version to look at until it retires sideways into a shelf in another season...

Channeling Dr. Sen as best I can, I must concede that I would be guilty of nothing short of beastly ingratitude, were I to fail to show my genuine appreciation of his immensely dense, or, one might say, intensely compact, delivery of precious information about the wealth, and breadth, of cultural and historical data that was nothing if not lost to my generation of Indian arguers, while nevertheless being at the same time our true heritage and actual intellectual underpinnings and ours to claim as of right, in the process of such an education as could hardly have been more watered-down in this regard. And yes, this is the moment to whip the cover off ancient accomplishments worldwide that have been shrouded by five centuries of Western dominance. But does the book deliver what its covers (from top down, British, Indian, and American) promise?

jacket art by
Kailash Raj
courtesy of
Okay, so, Radha and Krishna-- engaged in heated discourse--before or after sex? Passion and polemics, love and loquciousness, a little eros with your debate-- why not? Looks like fun! This works out pretty well in terms of fulfilling its promise for the first part about hidden heritage, colonial spin, and the absorptive wonders of Desh, but then the excitement and poesy start to peter out at the Rabindranath v. Gandhi section....and don't come back for me until we're talking calendars.

Things I love:
-- a third model of secularism, combining religious neutrality with a uniform civil code.
-- Aryabhata being so far ahead of Copernicus.
-- grain surplus for school lunches.

-- how many calendars are still extant in Desh, much like the huge number of scripts in print.
-- the story of Jamsetji Tata, a capsule description and possibly a rich sampling that shows how obstructionist colonial governments and societies must have been everywhere --the one stingy with permits, and the other selective about capitalizing industrial projects
, never mind education, in occupied lands. With such a habit so long in place, and so thoroughly disguised as a virtue, no wonder the same approach became the adopted m.o. of succeeding governments, and no surprise that the general prohibition of entrepreneurial incentives was so swiftly reversed in application, at least in India, to serve as a means of protecting the newly reviving economy from foreign developers...

One Thing Missing from this assessment of Indian identity is the almost unversal and endlessly persistent Desi talent for producing and participating in hilarity.

Things I take issue with:
-- support for IE, which was
debunked long ago .
-- Linking Indus-Saraswvati Theory to and identifying it with Hindutva.
-- Interpretation of Khadi production as projected linchpin of an independent economy (see p. 100, A
merican ed.) Khadi making and wearing was clearly meant to be a nationwide stand against the satellite-fying of the Indian markets. I thought that was clear-- it worked anyway. Alas, sometimes there just isn't a more effective alternative to nationalism as a rallying point, and people don't necessarily rally for a bellicose purpose.
-- Pokhran II did not prod Pakistan into nuke-armed parity. Rather, it forced the generals of Islamabad to declare that they had been preparing all along, and were ready to go.
-- As women mostly know, housework doesn't present the main rival claim to women's time that might otherwise be spent profitably working outside the home. i.e., children, once birthed, need to be brought up, Taking care of this business is an active occupation, not a frivolous pastime, and someone has to do it -- many men never get this....

Lastly but not leastly, I must caution against an overly accepting, or, conversely, an atavistic response to pages 78 and 79, where Dr. Sen castigates Praveen Togadia vigorously and outright in the footnotes, but scolds James Mill a little more delicately in the main text.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


after PEN round table discussion about
'A Million Little Pieces'...

1) A man ran onto the platform, looking for a train. Tripping over the yellow line, he fell onto the tracks. Stopping the train, others picked him up. A track-shaped indentation bled across his occipital skull bone. "I’m fine," he insisted. Police and medics came. Standing clear of the closing doors, some declared
, "He was on drugs."

2) I was so very sick. Walking to the doctor’s office, I fainted near a school. The school nurse gave me water and sent me onward. The doctor’s waiting room reeked of smoke. ‘Nobody smokes here,’ said the receptionist. When I went to pay my bill a month later, the doctor was dead from lung cancer.

3) Strangers whistled at the fourteen year old girl -- truck drivers, panhandlers, builders and oddballs. Passing pedestrians quizzed her. “Where Have You Been All My Life?” they cried. One day in the Park, an ancient man ordered his nurse to stop his wheelchair in her path. “You are as beautiful as a thousand orchids,” he said.

4) The fat Judge dismissed the Complaint with prejudice. Plaintiff appealed. Defendants-Respondents moved to strike the Record, but the Record was what it was. Briefs were filed. Like a faulty Jack-in-the-Box, Defendants’ Counsel jumped at the wrong time. The order unanimously modified on the law and the facts, removing prejudice, Plaintiff became free to complain again.

5) Two women entered an oak-paneled elevator. Bitter rivals in seeking to influence not-for-profit event production, one was richer, the other poorer. Tension grew as the cab descended. Halfway, the poorer said, “I shall hound you for that flourless chocolate cake recipe.” “Don’t bother,” said the richer, “I’ll e-mail it to you.” And she did.

6) The Dean came from California especially to address Alumni and Parents in New York. Exceptional strawberries were served at The University Club. Then the Dean spotted an undergraduate in the audience. “What are you doing here?” he asked. The stunning undergraduate smiled brilliantly, “I heard you were speaking, so I flew over,“ she said.

With thanks to
Sepia Mutiny

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Today I rushed around getting a letter written and printed to the best of my ability and posted on time, which is always a very confusing undertaking for me, with elements of high drama usually thrown in. This time, I missed the boat, so to speak, and had to make a detour to 55th Street after 7 pm, so, to recover, B took me to see The Family Stone in the neighborhood we lived in before she was born. She says switching brothers is gross. I agreed that it seemed unhygienix, but I thought the movie was fun although trite and in bad taste, although not qute as Kincaid as the opening credits promised. We came home, ate dinner and and watched Everyone Says I Love You while she IMed her friends, which is always in very good taste.