This is not a political blog. I have no desire to rant and rattle on about my political views and why you should or should not vote for this one, that one, or the third one who really shouldn't even be running because he's just mucking up the chances of the second one. There are plenty of blogs exactly like that, though, so if that's the horse you want to ride, well, do a search and saddle up, cowboy.

This is not a blog about the short-comings of the American education system or the stupidity of the next ( or any) generation. If you think the school system failed you and you can still read this, then congratulations,Kilroy! You managed to rise above it. Kudos to you.

This is absolutely not an anti-American blog. I may have named it "Stupid America", but as corny as it sounds, I really do love this country. I will, however, admit I am often embarrassed by it. I just don't understand how a country that once gave us Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Sojourner Truth and Walt Whitman could now be serving up Real Housewives, teen vampires, info-mercials, Humvee limousines and all things Kardashian. Where, exactly, did we go off-script? This blog is my journal of musings on American culture and mores as I try to find some answers.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hear Us Roar

In the United States, March is designated "National Women's History Month". Most of us don't give this a second thought, or if we do, it's mostly just to give ourselves a congratulatory pat on the back that we remembered it.  But when you think about even the recent past, it is astonishing how much my generation of women takes for granted. We grew up knowing we were as good, smart and worthy as any man. We were told we could and would do anything we wanted to do, we could reach any goal, no matter how lofty. We were not expected to simply get married and have babies. We now go to college, law school, med school, we can and do go to war, and we also get ourselves elected to office and appointed to the Supreme Court. We are everywhere. We are everything. And this is not unusual. This is what we grew up knowing. We are equal. We are as good as any man, and very often, we're better.
      Sure, I wrote that last line with a wink, but on second thought, maybe I do mean it. Women have historically had an uphill battle to fight, and fight we have. Our female ancestors fought so hard and so well, we now take the very things they fought for completely for granted.  You may not like that jury duty notice you've been ignoring for months now, but the right for a woman to serve on a jury was not officially and fully  established as a federal right until ( astonishingly) 1975, in the case of Taylor v. Louisiana, which overthrew an earlier decision from a 1961 case. And no, I'm not kidding. Look it up. Until then, states could and did exclude women from sitting on juries if they so wished. And many did exclude women up until the 1950's-60's.
       Some of us (you know who you are) don't even bother to vote. It's too much of a bother to register, you say. Or, hey, my candidate is going to win, they don't need my vote this time around.  If your great great grandmother were alive today, I bet she would tell you different. Voting is a hard won privilege, lest we forget. The 19th amendment, which officially gave women of the United States the right to vote, was not ratified until 1920. The 15th amendment, although imperfect and not fully realized in some respects, gave African American men the right to vote when it was 1870. That's a full 50 years before women were given that same right. And that is really saying something, given the way the United States has historically treated African Americans.
      Now, as we all know, when black men were given the right to vote, they were largely used as political pawns by power hungry white candidates.  The whole "40 acres and a mule" practice would be called into play.  But you're nuts if you think that women, when finally given the right to vote, were not used in much the same way.  No, they weren't promised land and money. But they most definitely were used as political pawns, and it is a strongly held opinion that the manipulation of the newly enabled group of women voters is what clinched Warren Harding's election in 1920.  The fact that it took fifty years longer for women to get the vote than African American men means that women were truly regarded as second class citizens. Both, the Abolition and Suffrage movements were historically linked for many years.
      As for today, yes, we really have come a long way. And yes, I think many of us do take it all for granted at times. I know I do. Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for the office of vice president ( in 1984) , passed away  earlier this week after a lifetime of public service.  What most of us do not remember is exactly how groundbreaking that run for vice-president was. It was unprecedented. Forget about a woman actually running for president!  Yet today, it would raise nary an eyebrow. When Hilary Clinton was vying for the democratic nomination in 2008, she gave Barack Obama some stiff competition and no one thought it strange that a woman should run for the top office in the land. Today, 140 years after black men were given the right to vote, we have a black president. I am so glad I got to be a witness to that huge event in American history. And in the future, when we have another president who happens to be black, it won't be a big deal because Barack Obama paved the way, he crossed that great hurtle and brought the nation with him. I remember how full of joy the African American community was when Obama was elected, and I get that. In my lifetime, I ardently hope I get to feel some of that same joy when the returns come in on a chilly November night and America finally elects a woman president. (And no, I'm not talking to you, Sarah Palin. Go away!!)  We've come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.

     And so another  National Women's History Month passes into the annals. But before it is completely gone, I wanted to mention that this one is extra special. March 25, 2011 is the hundred year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which is still regarded as the biggest industrial disaster in New York City history. The fire caused the death of 146 garment workers, most of them hard-working immigrant women, between the ages of 14 and 48. You can read more about the Triangle Factory fire here.  Many of the fire's victims were girls who just a few years before were bravely protesting and fighting for the rights of workers to fair hours and safe workplace conditions. The fire, and its terrible outcome, incited public outrage and in its wake, many labor laws were passed, ensuring future generations of workers ( again, many of them women) would have safer workplaces and more rights therein.
     Today there is nothing to mark the tragic site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire except a series of small plaques on the Brown Building, which housed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in 1911.  Whenever I walk past it I make a mental note of them, and remember the tragedy. But so many people each day walk right past and never know what happened there so long ago. It's easy to miss, but it is a very important part of New York City history, and in a larger sense, American history. Think of those Triangle Shirtwaist victims as you enjoy your next weekend off. Without labor legislation, the idea of a two day "weekend" might never have come into being. The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition is trying to raise public awareness about the Triangle fire and fund a public art memorial to commemorate it. This is their website:

Below is a photo of a commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I thought it was a particularly lovely shot of a processional of shirtwaists, each bearing the name of a fire victim, floating ephemerally in the morning light.

                                                               photo by Liza Dey
                            See the entire album here:

And finally, I'll end this with a quote from writer/diplomat/politician Clare Boothe Luce:
Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, "She doesn't have what it takes". They will say, "Women don't have what it takes". 

Food for thought. And still true, even today. Just ask Hilary.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

     Sometimes I think I should have named this blog something other than, "Stupid America". And then something like this happens and I realize I was right all along: A woman in Manhattan is suing her daughter's $19,000 per year preschool because, she says, it did not adequately prepare her four year old daughter for entry into New York City's competitive private school system. Apparently she did not "catch the eye" of any elite  power kindergartens and now she is destined for a life of drudgery and hard labor for minimum wage instead of an Ivy League college and a job as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Yes, really.
      According to the litigious mother, her precious angel started at the Upper East Side preschool at the age of three. But Mom pulled her out only a month into her second year, because not only was the school not doing enough to prepare her for entry into the difficult realm of  private kindergarten, it was also (gasp) "one big playroom"!! Imagine the temerity, letting three and four year old kids play instead of  answering essay questions, solving quadratic equations and speaking conversational French. Who do they think they are?! Who in their right mind would let a four year old play with other kids and  talk about shapes and colors (this is the sort of degenerate stuff the mother insisted was going on) before they've taken their college entrance exams? How could they be expected to be either a Mover or a Shaker, much less both,  when they haven't even read Proust by the age of five!  Shameful.  Mom also insists her little darling was forced to associate with two year olds. What kind of idiot lets four year old kids associate with two year olds!?  It's like they don't even care.  First they let the kid play, and then they expect her to play with other kids!
      Furthermore, the mother and her legal team insist, the apple of her eye will now be forced to accept a life of hard knocks because she will never be able to get into an Ivy League school. This quote is directly from the article in the New York Times-and it seems like they can't believe this either:

The suit charges that preschool education is critical to a child’s success in life, quoting from various news articles. “It is no secret that getting a child into the Ivy League starts in nursery school,” says one. “Studies have shown entry into a good nursery school guarantees more income than entry into an average school,” says another.
     I think perhaps those studies that show that entry into a good nursery school guarantees more income neglect to mention that those who have $19,ooo a year to throw away might also have enough money to make sizable donations to the college of their little pumpkins' choice, thereby helping to guarantee a spot in the next freshman class, and then quite possibly guaranteeing more income in the future. In Daddy or Mummy's company. 
 Hmm. Now, I have to say, I have many friends who attended Ivy League colleges and universities. Almost all of them graduated from said colleges and universities, and the very few who did not, transferred to  equally excellent schools and did finish their degrees. I know many who continued on in Ivy League universities and obtained their graduate degrees, both, Masters and PhD's, from them. Several of my closest friends actually teach at Ivy League colleges now. Many are considered to be foremost in their chosen fields. And if I were to  ask them, "Did you go to a prestigious preschool?", they would look at me like I was crazy, laugh, and then answer, "did you?". And I would have to admit, I never went to preschool, and even kindergarten is really just a blur.  When we were four, we were far more concerned with  dolls, Hot Wheels and Scooby Doo than what we should write about in our admissions essays. And we played with other kids, and toys, because we were, you know, normal.
        Of the many  people I know who attended Ivy League schools,  almost none of them went to private school. Even fewer went to preschool. Yet they managed to get into the college of their choice and then go on to become lawyers, doctors, business people, scientists, teachers, professors, stay at home moms, artists, authors, actors, architects, engineers...anything,  ANYTHING they wanted to be, they could become. Not because they went to an Ivy League, and certainly not because they went to the right preschool, but because they had the drive and the brains to do it. And along with that, very often they had parents who read to them, took them to museums and libraries and concerts, helped them with their homework, went to  their school plays, watched their basketball games, listened to them and just basically supported their kids and let them know that  they could do anything they set their mind to, or at least, they could try.  And it didn't cost them $19,000 per year, either.  So, I have to wonder, who's the guilty party here? Is it the school that let the kids play instead of learning to splice genes, or is it the mom who is more concerned with prestige and an elite private school education than she seems to be with her kid?  Maybe if she spent some time with her own kid, her daughter would have perhaps passed that elusive private school test. I know, I know, that's what nannies and tutors are for, but still...we'll never know because it's too late, the kid must be half way to five by now. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, right?  Another future ruined before the age of six. Will they never learn? 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Haiku For A New York Monday Morning

                                                     If I miss this train,

                                              my desk will be there, waiting

                                                    with its empty chair.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Welcome To The Non-Sequiturium

      Well, here we are again. To combat writer's block and my lack of inspiration and enthusiasm of late, I've decided to introduce a possibly recurring feature I'll call "The Non-Sequiturium", in which I basically spout off random thoughts and anecdotes which will mostly have nothing to do with anything else or even each other. And really, isn't that what blogging is all about? Unless you're one of those ten trillion mommy bloggers who blog about how cute it is when your kid eats your lipstick and then gets sick in your purse ( Awww!! Precious. ), Or maybe one of the legions of Jesus bloggers who blog about, you know, Jesus. Which is cool with me, really. At least Jesus never ate anyone's lipstick. Not that I have a problem with kids or Jesus, I just don't care to write about either of them. What I do care to write about is:

Hipsters today are wearing things that the hipsters 20 years ago would have deemed "unhip". "Hip" is in the eye and time of the beholder/purveyor/hipster. But...there is no way a mullet hairdo is ever going to be ironic. Just say "No".

Last night I had a dream that Ray Romano and Jennifer Beals were doing a big Vegas review of Flash Dance, complete with feather head-dressed showgirls and a crazy laser show, and I was at a dress rehearsal. It was...odd.

I find it interesting that feminist Simone De Beauvoir's name can be loosely translated as Simone De Good Lookin'...

I heard an argument the other day over which generation invented "goth". One person said it was invented in the 90's, the other said the '80's or maybe even the '70's.  My vote goes to the Victorians, because they are some creepy bastards. Go read some Poe and examine some curio cabinets full of shrunken heads, mummy powder and strange bones and tell me otherwise. Not to mention the waistcoats, stove pipe hats and bustles, spirit photography,  mourning jewelry, mourning portraiture, mourning EVERYTHING... Like I said, creepy bastards. Bow down before the ones you serve...

How did Huey Lewis and the News ever get a recording deal? What were people thinking in the '80's?

After the telephone was invented, there was a debate as to what exactly should be said when one answered it. Alexander Graham Bell preferred the phrase, "ahoy-hoy", which was a fairly common greeting in the 1870's.  Eventually, "hello" won out,  but Mr. Burns on "The Simpsons" still uses "ahoy-hoy", because old habits are hard to break.

I read in today's paper that the average monthly rental price of a New York City one bedroom apartment is now $2,535. That's just insane.

I also read in today's paper that dentists are getting hot under the collar because Macy's has changed the route of its annual Thanksgiving Day parade from 7th Avenue to 6th Avenue starting next Thanksgiving. Now, why should the dentists be so upset? Well, because this means that their hotel rooms won't look out on the parade anymore. You see, the dentists have their annual "meeting" ( read: Bacchanalia ) in New York right at Thanksgiving, and their hotels are always along the parade route so they all have a great view.  The "meeting" organizers are angry and upset because they say many will not show up now. Hmm. What the hell goes on at this dental convention, and is nitrous oxide  involved?

I heard that the woman who invented the scrunchy is a multi-millionaire now. I wish I invented the scrunchy. Seriously, how hard could it have been?

I am always amazed at the people who jockey for the absolute closest parking spot they can get,  so they don't have to walk too far when they go to the gym to use the treadmill.

The most common plastic surgery procedure in the world is liposuction. Ick.

There used to be a store in NoLita ( the neighborhood north of Little Italy) that sold only rice pudding in dozens of flavors and varieties. I wonder how long that lasted.

When I was a kid I was absolutely terrified of Bigfoot. Bigfoot, according to various 3rd grade class mates,  had been sighted in Central Park. Also in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, and Alley Pond Park in Queens. That Bigfoot got around.  There was no logic to these alleged sightings, but how could my very wise friends be wrong? Their sister's friend's cousin's buddy had actually seen Bigfoot while playing baseball/riding a bike/walking the dog.  The whole school was in an uproar. Bigfoot supposedly could be recognized by his eerie, half-moon eyes, which shone deep yellow. (Apparently the fact that he would be a seven foot tall hairy upright creature with huge feet was not enough of an identifying marker).  Each night I would close my eyes and see those shining yellow half-moon eyes. I slept with a night light on every night. If I slept at all, so scared was I that Bigfoot would barge into my room one fateful  night and what, eat me? Scare me to death? Finally, my brother, in his infinite little kid wisdom, said, " How could Bigfoot get up to your room? How could he get to an apartment window or even the second floor of a house? He would stay in the park and hunt squirrels. Duh!" This seemed to put my mind at ease about Bigfoot and I rested easier, until, shortly thereafter I switched my unfounded fears to UFO's and aliens. They could easily get up to any window, since they flew around in space ships and could also land in trees and on flat roof tops. Looking back, I realize, I was a weird kid. And also, it's no wonder I'm a fan of "The X-Files".  I want to believe...

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Failed Life Of Crime: Part One

     I am feeling uninspired these days. No fresh ideas, not a one. No energy and no will to work on any project I put before myself. Nothing gets done. When I am feeling particularly uninspired, I tend to gaze out my window for long periods of time. I watch the world pass me by. Today, just a little while ago, a UPS truck pulled up and parked directly in front of my door. I saw the driver wait for a car to pass and then walk across the street and down the block with packages in his hands.  Then I looked at the truck, sitting there in front of my house. It was open  (those drivers must get cold in the winter), with several packages sitting in full view, unguarded, directly by the driver's seat and therefore, by the large openings on each side of that. Someone with a car could just pull up right behind that truck and grab as many packages as they could handle, throw them in their vehicle, and then just drive away as quickly as possible with their ill-gotten gain.Hmm, I thought. If I were a less honest person, I could run out my door and down the steps and grab a few of those packages, then run back inside with them and no one would ever be the wiser.  Yeah, that's right, no one. I could grab at least three big packages and maybe a small one and then vamoose and no one would ever know. No one was walking by. No one who was driving by would even take the time to look. It would be so easy...
      I looked at the truck again. Four packages were resting directly to the right of the driver's seat. A medium sized box was on the floor and two small boxes sat on top of it. A long, rectangular package rested against the larger box at a jaunty angle. The driver was all the way at the end of the block with his packages, he wouldn't be back for a while yet. But what if there was a dashboard camera? Yeah, I know, that's a long shot, but what if? I mean, I wouldn't want to get caught. Well, I could put on my hoodie sweat shirt and tie the hood really tight so it hides everything but my eyes, kinda like Kenny in South Park. I could put a hat on over that to further distort my image. No one would be able to I.D. me  then! Hmm, sure. Then I could just open the front door and...booyah! I gots me four hot packages full of who knows what, that are now mine, free and clear. And no one gets hurt, either, I tell myself. UPS ( evil corporate empire that they are) is responsible for things that are not delivered, not the folks who order them. And UPS is insured against such mishaps, aren't they? So everybody wins in the end. When you think about it, I'd be doing everyone involved a favor! No, really, I would!
      OK. So I go and get those packages, run inside, then, when I catch my breath and calm down a bit, I look nervously through the blinds and see that no one has noticed. The driver may come casually back to the truck and drive off, or he may look at the space where the packages were and seem puzzled. Studies show that memory and recall are notoriously tricky things. Would he remember that there were packages there, or would he  think he already delivered them? Odds are he wouldn't think anything was out of the ordinary. There would still be packages on the truck, just a few would be missing. Or he might be puzzled, but let it pass and move on to his next destination.  Of course, he could be a diligent driver and realize something was missing, but even so, there would be no way to tell where it went. He might look around, he might ask if anyone had seen anything, but ultimately, there would be no proof or evidence of wrong doing. He would have to file a report, if he notices, or try to account for the loss at some later date when customers call and report that they have never gotten their package. So long, sucker! Those packages are now mine. MINE.  ( Insert evil laugh here).
      Four packages, all in brown paper, all stolen without consequence, and all now mine. Which should I open first!? Oh, the excitement. Like Christmas morning and sneaking into a haunted house and a  wild rollercoaster ride, all together. What to do, what to do...? Well, first the long, rectangular one. I tear into it like nobody's business! My ill-gotten booty! What could it be? What could it BE?? OK, it takes a little longer to open than I first thought. I get a box cutter and work at the tape and paper and finally, my efforts are rewarded with...a new part for an Electrolux vacuum cleaner. A shiny chrome pipe that probably fits onto the hose and is absolutely necessary to make the vacuum work but does nothing, NOTHING for me. Ah, well. But I still have three packages to open! What could be in them? Electronics, I hope. Or maybe a designer handbag or jewelry or books or...oh, why wait? I delve into one of the smaller boxes. Good things come in small packages, right? Well, not this time, I think, as I open the box to find a replacement battery for a cell phone. And no, it would not fit my cell phone. Strike two. I heave a sigh and set about opening the third package, the larger box that seems promising. It is not so heavy but also not so light.  Maybe it's a camera, or computer, even, wrapped in miles of protective packing...but when I finally tear it open, I find it isn't anything electronic. It's...SHOES!  But these are definitely not Jimmy Choo's. Two pairs of custom-made orthopedic old lady shoes. One pair in tombstone gray, the other in a color called,"bark",  which is definitely worse than any bite.  Three down, one to go.
      Surely fourth time's a charm? I rip open the last package to medicine. Special chicken flavored thyroid medical chews for someone's dog, whose name, by the way, is Spanky Eidlestein. The dog, not the person. The prescription is in the dog's name. Curses. Foiled again. But wait, there's more. Along with the chicken chews is a special antibiotic that apparently is necessary for Spanky's health and continued well-being, and directions that it must be administered three times a day.  My anger at not getting the camera and iPad I so richly do not deserve is replaced almost immediately by shame, sadness and panic. What have I done? How can I live with myself now that Spanky is in mortal peril? Somewhere in Forest Hills there is a person whose vacuum cleaner will not be running any time soon, and in Boerum Hill there's a lady waiting for those ugly shoes, who will not be able to walk correctly until she gets them. Not to mention Mr. Otmar  Okepi of Long Island City, whose phone battery is now lying among the detritus of my living room. Oh, how can I fix this?
      I know. I do. I have a plan. A brilliant plan to fix my evil wrongdoings! I go out to the store, buy brown paper and packing tape. I re-package all the open boxes, label them to the correct parties, and head out to the fifth nearest UPS venue.I am wearing my hoodie  with the hood up and dark sunglasses to boot, just as a precaution. I am a woman of mystery as I fill out the necessary paperwork, using a fake sender name and address, and I pay in cash. All except for Spanky's meds, which I then take, all re-packaged up, and hand deliver to the owner's address. The Eidelsteins live in Kew Gardens, Queens, and have a front porch, on which I leave the package, no questions asked, which is just what UPS would do.  Spanky needs his or her medicine. I will NOT be responsible for Spanky's condition getting worse. Finally, my atonement complete, I head home.  I may be in the red for the packing supplies and shipping costs, but I have beaten my way back to the path of honesty and virtue. Would I have done the same if the packages were full of jewelry and electronics? I'd like to think so, but if I had actually taken, no, STOLEN those things in the first place, I would have to wonder about that.
      I looked out the window in time to see the driver return to his truck and get back behind the wheel. The packages were all still where he left them, nothing out of place. As he drove away, I knew a few things for sure. First, I would be a lousy criminal, unless I were of the Robin Hood variety. I don't think I have the right (wrong) mindset to feel OK  about stealing other peoples' property, even if it seems incredibly easy. And second, and perhaps more importantly,  I don't think I'll ever send anything via UPS again.

In all seriousness, this is a shout-out to my friend  who actually DID have her pet's  meds, which were sent via UPS, most likely stolen. UPS makes a habit of leaving things without ringing a doorbell or waiting for a signature.  Who leaves a package unattended in the middle of New York City?So the package went missing and meanwhile, my friend's cat did not have necessary medicine. I am fairly sure my friend is not the only person who is missing something that was sent UPS. I am also fairly sure that a good number of people were severely inconvenienced because of this.  Perhaps it's time for a change in the UPS  corporate policy.