Wednesday, January 30, 2013

If this is what responsible shooting clubs find funny we have a bigger problem than I thought.

One of the things about having a blog is that you can see the sites that refer traffic to posts. One of the top sites referring traffic to yesterday's post One Million Moms for Gun Control is called Northeast Shooters.

They are a gun group here in New England, and they claim to represent responsible gun owners. They oppose the Linsky bill.

In addition to many other sensible reforms, the Linsky bill would require gun owners to buy liability insurance for their firearms. I trust the free market enough to believe that liability insurers would almost certainly require that gun owners keep military style assault weapons out of the hands of unlicensed users, including elementary school age children.

This photo is on the Northeast Shooters website, northeastshooters [dot] com. I don't think it's funny, but I'll let my readers judge. (When I saved the file to my desktop, it was called "Ralphie-ar"):

Here is the screenshot from their webpage, taken today. As you can see if you magnify the image, the photo was posted nine days AFTER the Newtown massacre (wherein 20 children where blown to pieces, many literally beyond recognition, with the military style gun pictured in this Responsible Gun Owner's Christmas greeting).

Monday, January 28, 2013

One Million Moms for Gun Control

R. and I are proud to stand with One Million Moms for Gun Control.

Here's the Grape at Saturday's State House rally in support of OMMFGC's March on Washington:

We're also proud to live in Massachusetts, and support Rep. David Linsky's  brave and important legislation to close background check loopholes, improve trafficking enforcement and mandate that all firearms owners purchase liability insurance. 8 to 9 children die every day in the United States of gunshot wounds.

That sad number would be much higher if we didn't have access to first rate emergency medicine in this country.

I'll repeat the sobering statistic and let it sink in: 8 to 9 children a day die of gunshot wounds in the United States. You'd better believe that as a mom, I want gun owners held liable if their firearms are used to harm any child, with or without criminal intent.

Consider: If 8 to 9 children were being killed by a toy everyday, the media would be unable to speak of anything else, Congress would hold hearings and the toy would be pulled from shelves in milliseconds. Politicians from both parties would scream about the need for better regulations.

Massachusetts moms and other concerned citizens: Your state senators and representatives NEED TO HEAR FROM YOU. Only 8% of Massachusetts voters own guns, but we learned at Saturday's rally that they are a vocal, angry minority. We who want better gun violence prevention legislation must make it clear that we are watching how our representatives and state senators vote on Rep. Linsky's bill, and that we will not support our representatives in their upcoming elections if they fail to support the measure. (Gov. Patrick has already indicated he would sign the bill into law.)

Here is the letter I sent today. Feel free to copy, paste and send it to your representative and state senator. You can look up your Massachusetts representatives here.

January 28, 2013

Dear Sen. Chang-Diaz and Rep. Rushing:

I am a constituent, I voted for you, and I am writing to ask that you support House Docket 2678: An Act to Reduce Gun Violence and Protect the Citizens of the Commonwealth. Like millions of American moms and other concerned citizens, I KNOW more can be done to reduce the everyday tragedy of gun violence and deaths. Representative Linsky’s bill will close loopholes in our existing state laws to help prevent additional gun violence in the Commonwealth.

I expect that you will join me, and One Million Moms for Gun Control, in supporting these common sense solutions to the increasing gun violence in Massachusetts.

I will be watching for your commitment to House Docket 2678.

Please know that this legislation is of extreme importance to me. I am particularly eager to see Massachusetts lead the nation in mandating that all owners of firearms purchase liability insurance for their weapons.

If you do not support HD 2678, I will not support you in your next election.

Thank you for your time.

Mari Passananti
Boston, MA 02118
(mom to a 3-year-old)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Calling BS on Mommy Brain

The other day one of my friends mentioned to our book club that she forgets things.  A lot.  Simple things, mostly. She meant the kinds of episodes where one marches into a room and promptly forgets what she was about to do there.

"Mommy brain!" One of our girlfriends declared, and heads around the table nodded.

I've heard of the Mommy Brain phenomenon before, of course. Some evidence exists that pregnancy can affect a woman's reaction time, memory, and critical thinking. The theory goes that hormonal changes may make a pregnant woman less reactive to certain kinds of stress, and therefore calmer and better equipped to deal with the demands of infant care.

But I haven't seen any evidence that the diversion of resources is in any way permanent beyond the immediate post-partum period. Lack of mental acuity after hormone re-equalization can, I think, be chalked up to plain old sleep deprivation and/or lack of use of critical thinking skills.

Neither of which is unique to moms.

What I think is unique to moms, or indeed women, is our willingness to admit to, and laugh publicly at, our brain freezes.

Think about it. Don't you know plenty of men who make dumb mistakes at work? Forget what they are looking for, mid-search? Fail to see items in front of their very noses? Cause minor vehicular accidents? Fail to estimate the time demands of a given task? Arrive at the check out counter with no wallet? Arrive home with no carton of milk despite being reminded thrice?

When confronted with such brain freezes, men, in my vast but unscientifically annotated observations, are far more likely than women to become angry.

In my workplace experience, when a man takes responsibility for an error, he is unlikely to blame hormones or parental status. We women, who still make 77 cents for every dollar earned by our male counterparts, should borrow this page from the male colleagues' playbook: Never offer your employer a biological, unalterable reason to think you're less capable because you have kids.

If you screw up, it's because of some logical reason or omission, not because you assume hormones have liquefied your brain. The very fact that you are working, i.e. juggling mental demands outside of child care, serves to jolt your brain into higher gear.


Because scientists are finding that the human brain is, in many ways, a use it or lose it organ. Hence,  the overwhelming evidence that those who regularly exercise the mind can often delay the onset of conditions such as Alzheimer's.

Perhaps we women need to stop saying, even in jest, that Mommy Brain is real. Harmless joking among friends stops feeling so harmless when children overhear, and, over months and years, internalize the message that Mommy isn't quite as sharp as the male adults.

It's a negative message that can stick with kids for life. Remember the well-deserved flack then-Harvard University President Lawrence Summers received when he said that women aren't as equipped as men to succeed in the sciences?

He didn't say that in a vacuum. That type of thinking, that women can't handle highly technical disciplines such as science and engineering, starts well before the university level. Ever hear that boys are good at math, girls are good at language? Of course you have.

That type of categorical thinking has caused generations of parents and teachers to steer male students one way, females another. Those children whose interests don't conform are often made to feel like outsiders.

Maybe young boys' and girls' brains do develop differently, but by the time the sexes catch up to each other across the various academic disciplines, the stereotypes are set.

Mommy Brain is just one more articulation of the not as smart, not as quick, not as capable stereotype. Let's stop indulging it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Making a Scene? Go for it. It works.

My late grandmother, my mother's mother, was an extraordinarily considerate person. She worried incessantly about the comfort and convenience of others, whether they were neighbors, service providers, or complete strangers.

My Mummi, as we called her (because she was Finnish, not because we're clever or anti-traditionalist or whatever), lived much of her life in fear of a family member Making. A. Scene.

She'd be appalled at what the world has come to. It seems that making a scene is increasingly the best way to get things done, particularly when dealing with large entities.

Such as the bank. To get the bank's attention, you must go public, make noise.

Late Wednesday morning, I logged onto my checking account at Citizens Bank. I was planning to pay a few routine bills. The recent activity page showed a significant ($360) debit from a grocery store in Richmond, Virginia, made two days prior.

I haven't been to Richmond since 1999, when a good friend and I drove there for the day to be sworn into the Virginia State Bar. On the date in question, I had used my debit card—in Boston.

When I dropped everything, including the Grape, who had been promised a treat, to call customer service, it took over eight minutes to reach a live human being.

This live human being was very polite, and she cut me off when I said I had a suspicious charge on my account.

"You mean Food Lion in Richmond, right?"


"They actually tried again, for a larger amount, but VISA denied the charge."

"So you, the bank, knew there was a fraudulent charge on my account?" I ask, with the Grape starting to melt down in the background.


"Made without the actual card or PIN or ID?"


"So then why didn't I receive a call? Or at least an email?" The Grape begins to howl. Some toy car has malfunctioned.

She had no answer. She told me that a new debit card would take ten days to reach me, and the credit of $360 would take an equivalent amount of time. They'd send me an affidavit to sign. They'd investigate.

Then the call dropped. She never called back. I didn't call back, because I knew I'd never get the same representative, and I'd have to waste more time bringing someone else up to speed. I emailed customer service to request they speed up my refund. They sent me a message saying they'd respond in 24 to 48 hours.

I pay them, an FDIC bank, to secure my money. They failed to do so. It seems to me they ought to credit the funds while they investigate. What if I were scrapping by, paycheck to paycheck? $360 is not coffee change. Ten days is a long time for so many working moms.

Seething, the Grape and I headed out (late) to an appointment. When I got home, I tweeted about my dissatisfaction. I outlined the problem in a series of tweets:

very troubled that  allowed a thief to use my debit card at  in another state without producing the card (1/3)

 and  evidently flagged the $360 transaction someone made with my card number but no card and DID NOT CONTACT ME (2/3)

.  should require customers who present debit card #, w/o card, to provide PIN/photo ID/CVV for purchase >$350?! (3/3)

I got a call from another polite representative, who said she was with the chairman's office. Lesson learned: Don't sit on hold to complain. Complain on Twitter so thousands of other customers can see you. "I guess Twitter gets results," I said to her.

"It sure does," she agreed, with one of those nervous half laughs.

The representative said she'd overnight me a new card, but that the refund would still take ten days. She assured me she would try to speed that up, but couldn't promise. I guess the chairman doesn't give his office much leeway, since I would think $360 to make a loud and disgruntled customer shut up and go away would seem like a bargain.

I went back to Twitter (for non tweeters, the dot before @ makes the tweet public):

. I find it very troubling that the $360 Citizens admits was stolen from me is STILL NOT BACK IN MY ACCOUNT. (1/2)

. especially since you failed to notify me of the fraud and theft from my account when  alerted you. very unhappy customer

I got another call from the nice lady in the chairman's office this morning, saying the $360 would be back in my account by close of business today. I also received the new card via FedEx.

I'm unimpressed. A number of friends who bank elsewhere contacted me and said any delay in crediting the funds is ridiculous. I'm inclined to agree. Banking isn't what it used to be. 

We pay consumer banks noticeable (and ever larger) fees to maintain modest accounts.

When the banks fail to secure one of those accounts, they should immediately credit the customer during the investigation. Especially if they're not even going to bother to alert the customer to the theft. If you don't want to call me because you screwed up, that's fine. If you're going to play that way, how about putting the money back so I don't notice the loss in the first place?

Needless to say, I'm in the market for a new bank, and I'm inclined to go the small local route. The kind of place that has a live human being answering the phone. I've threatened to channge before, because of monthly fees, but I've been lazy. Moving the bill pay stuff is tedious. Banks know this.

This time, I am properly motivated.

Send me suggestions, please, Boston readers.

Unless, of course:

 @CitizensBank wants to make it up to me by waiving all future maintenance fees on both my accounts...

You might say, I got my money back. The system worked. I disagree. I PAY them to secure my money so I don't have to guard it in my mattress. They dropped the ball. I should be compensated for wasted time, as well as for aggravation.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The K Street Affair is here!

Today I get to say happy book birthday to my second novel, a political suspense caper called The K Street Affair (regular readers have been looking at the cover pictured on the right of this post for a few months).

The K Street Affair is in many ways a different book from my debut novel, The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken, which is both exciting and a little scary.

Exciting because The K Street Affair has been a project close to my heart for many years. When I sent out queries for an earlier version with a different, now discarded title, one agent told me that the world wasn't "ready for a female Jason Bourne."

I respectfully disagreed, but heeded his advice to write something "more mainstream." I shelved The K Street Affair and wrote The Hazards instead. After The Hazards published in 2011, I couldn't resist a massive re-write of The K Street Affair.

I was drawn to its central questions about the nexus of power and money, and about whether one rather ordinary individual can—or should—risk everything she has to try to stop a massive multinational criminal enterprise.

I reject the notion that male protagonists should monopolize the market on political suspense, action and international adventure. If male thriller characters can jump out of moving helicopters, or plunge unconscious over multi-story waterfalls, and live to save the day looking dapper, then surely my heroine, Lena Mancuso, can survive a few brushes with criminal kingpins by virtue of her wits and grit.

Boys, I decided a long time ago, should not get to have all the fun while the girls sit around and talk about their feelings.

I can pinpoint the moment when my resolve to finish the project that would become The K Street Affair hardened. In May, 2010, I attended a panel discussion on crafting successful thrillers led by bestselling author and fellow Bostonian Joseph Finder. He had a list of ten authors working in the genre he admired.

There was not one woman among them.

I'm hopeful The K Street Affair will appeal to readers of both sexes. Most reviews haven't published yet, but I'm thrilled that in the early going, voices as diverse as Joey Madia from Literary Aficionado and Cindy Roesel from Chick Lit Central heartily endorsed my novel. I'm delighted that Barnes & Noble also featured it today as a book club selection.

Still, writing a different kind of novel is scary for the simple reason that I don't want to disappoint readers who enjoyed Zoe's search for man and self in The Hazards, a coming of age novel aimed at young women. The publishing business has a track record of favoring one-trick ponies. Many industry pros like authors to stay in their pigeon holes.

To that end, I'll say I've merely expanded my category, because both novels feature young, smart woman protagonists forced to find their backbones through a series of unwanted events.

I hope you'll read The K Street Affair, and let me know what you think. Here's the link for Amazon and for Barnes & Noble (which for some reason hasn't linked the print version to the Nook version yet).

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year

Dear readers,

Happy New Year! May 2013 be healthy, prosperous and full of adventure for you and yours.

For the first time since the Grape arrived on the scene, I slept through the ball drop, sick with a remarkably tenacious cold the Grape and I passed back and forth during the height of the holiday festivities.

I meant to write a sassy holiday newsletter in this space last week as I've done in years past, and somehow it never materialized. Largely because, though Christmas came just the same, everyone old enough to be cognizant of current events was a bit melancholy beneath the usual fizz and sparkle.

Even the ever-jubilant Boston Pops, which R. and I attend with good friends every year, sang their evening out on a subdued note. No rousing Alleluia or jaunty Man With the Bag for this year's final encore. Keith Lockhart led his orchestra and the Tanglewood Chorus in a mournful Let There Be Peace Upon the Earth. Not a lot of dry eyes in the house.

A cheeky summary of the year's gaffes and unintended comedies of error seemed like an inappropriate bedfellow for my last post, a letter to the President pleading for meaningful and comprehensive gun control legislation. I know my letter, which I printed and sent to President Obama and several other elected officials, ran long and probably won't be read by anyone but an intern. But I hope, along with millions of other moms, that I can help inundate our leaders with demands for sensible and comprehensive firearms regulation—to a degree that they will actually find their backbones and act.

I am hopeful that new grassroots groups like One Million Moms for Gun Control will continue to push hard for legislation and I encourage you all to check them out. When they (or a similar group) organize a major march on Washington, the Grape and I will participate, and I hope you will join us.

I hope OMMFGC's leadership will come to spearhead the marginalization of the NRA, a fringe group of lunatic lobbyist mongers of violence. The NRA are mercenaries who deserve no place at the table when gun control comes up for discussion. And that's about the most polite thing I can think of to say about them.

I hope at the same time, OMMFGC will take a page from the NRA's playbook and start "scoring" our Congressional Representatives. Any elected official with a "good" grade from the NRA should have an awful lot of explaining to do to his or her constituents, and should receive a commensurate poor grade from the moms. You can check whether your representatives take the NRA's money here. You can demand they stop taking the NRA's money here.

The NRA had four million members before the Newtown massacre; before the massacre 3/4 of their own membership disagreed with the NRA's absolutist stance on firearms regulation. A supermajority of NRA members said they support background checks for ALL gun purchases—something their men on K Street ferociously oppose.

I don't know how many members the NRA lost after Newtown. Their Facebook page disappeared right after the slaughter. And don't let them tell you they scrubbed it because of moms demanding gun control and student activists posting remarks with the trending hashtags #FucktheNRA and #NoWayNRA. Wayne LaPierre has thicker skin than that.

I have no doubt he can handle being told to fuck himself. Repeatedly.

The NRA scrubbed their page because of the lunatic remarks posted by their own right wing members–that 25% who think we shouldn't restrict any weapon, anytime from anybody. The NRA's disappearance from social media wasn't a result of hurt feelings.

Their drop from the social media grid was a calculated decision, meant to stop the public from seeing what wing nuts their driving members truly are. As the days have ticked off the calendar and the tiny coffins have been buried, parts of their right wing fringe has regrouped and become more articulate.

There's a tweet bouncing around from the NRA saying that the intent of the second amendment was to make sure the government never has better weapons than its citizens.

Which is bullshit on multiple scores.

The government at the time wanted to ensure it could raise a citizens' militia, a National Guard, to defend itself.

Furthermore, if the civilians were entitled to any weapon in the government arsenal, it would be perfectly legal to possess a nuclear weapon, sell one to your neighbor, etc.

I understand that people have disaster fatigue. They don't want to stay sad over the senseless, preventable tragedy in Newtown. The desire to move forward is human nature.

But here's the rub: The NRA and its handmaidens in Congress are banking on the moms of America moving on.

Let's not do that. Please keep contacting your representatives, urging them to reinstate an assault weapons ban, to limit high capacity magazines, to close background check loopholes and to make major efforts to remove existing arsenal from circulation.

Make a resolution not to shop at Walmart, the country's largest retailer of assault weapons like the Bushmaster AR-13 used to murder the children of Newtown, until they stop selling all military style firearms.

Let's make 2013 a new year in America: A year when we join the rest of the civilized world in banning weapons of mass destruction like the rifle used to murder 26 innocents, 20 of them children in the first grade.