Thursday, November 10, 2011

My powers of persuasion have been validated by the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Department

Many of you know that my commitment to justice very rarely yields positive returns, except on the rare occasion that my blogposts of rage are actually funny.

Yet following my stint with international fame on BBC radio, it appears that my powers are indeed sharp and forceful, and I can make real things happen.

Yesterday I reported that a car licensed to the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Department had a broken tail-light, an offense that trips up countless numbers of civilians in encounters leading to searches and arrests of dubious legality, a matter for which the New Orleans Police Department is under investigation.

Today, I saw the same car (license plate number 193515) WITH A FIXED TAIL-LIGHT.  While I was unable to snap a photo, as I was driving and that sort of multitasking activity is frowned upon by the Sheriff's Department, look out for this car and its brand new shiny and functional left tail-light.

So, Dear Readers, I have only you to thank for following my exhortation to pull that beast over and give him a what-for.  Congratulations, and know that I'm taking y'all to the top with me!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Sheriff has no standing to pull you over for a broken tail-light

New Orleans drivers are a creative bunch.

They pull over unexpectedly, they stop in the middle of the road to chat with their friend passing by on the sidewalk, they think signalling is optional, and many of them are engaged in dubious sobriety.

I never played video games as a child, but I imagine that the experience of operating a motor vehicle in the City of New Orleans is a similar one.

Driving here often resembles an obstacle course, especially when it comes to avoiding law enforcement attention.  The dedicated officers of the Orleans Parish Police Department may be negligent in preventing most violent crime, but they will not let you off the hook for traffic offenses.

Indeed, there are so many traffic-related tickets and summonses issued in a given year, neither the City clerk, a NOPD public information officer, nor a Traffic Court representative was able to say with certainty how many were paid or unpaid. [The NOPD is currently under investigation for falsely issuing traffic tickets, and the City is currently pursuing an estimate of $91 million in unpaid parking tickets dating back 20 years.]

With such diligence at play, imagine my surprise to find an official public vehicle belonging to the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Department - the agency charged with enforcing all laws relevant to Orleans Parish - with a broken tail-light.

The broken tail-light, as most New Orleans drivers know, is anecdotally one of the main reasons that cops will pull you over.  They do this as an excuse to check licensing, registration, insurance, immigration status, and body cavities, as unknown threats to public safety are apparently revealed once the drivers are pulled over.  It is also a big money-maker for the City and its brake tag (that's "inspection" for all you non-Louisianans) industry that sets prices seemingly based on the changing alignment
of the stars.

So I am considering it my service to the City to alert the general public to the hazards presented by the driver of Sheriff's Office car license number 193515.  I urge you all to practice your civic duty to place this delinquent under citizen's arrest until the authorities arrive and do what's right.  And if I know New Orleans, what's right will be to excuse public employees for unlawful behavior.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My 5 minutes of fame...Still got 10 to go!

This morning I received a call from "Dani S.," a BBC employee who invited me to be a participant on today's "Have Your Say" live radio show.  The topic was to be Obama and Sarkozy's off-the-record catty exchange about Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and how it was revealed that neither particularly cares for him.

Dani had found me on Twitter after I posted in response to an NPR report about the incident.  She asked me to be the sole American caller on the show, weighing in on this event's impact event on domestic affairs in the US.

Despite my greed for fame, I was wary of participating on this program.  I feared it was the sort of show common in US media, one that provides a platform for smarmy hosts to provoke misinformed people into saying something inflammatory.  Indeed, when I told Dani I'm not an expert on US-France-Israel relations, she told me that "We don't like experts."

However, the show turned out to be slightly different than I expected.  True enough, the staff don't seem to care who you are, what you do, nor how much you know or don't know about the given subject.  Yet it's a little more intelligent an operation than most American caller-based shows, in that they do pre-screening to make sure you're not a crazy jackass trying to bring back the Confederacy.  Or at least if you are a crazy jackass trying to bring back the Confederacy, at least they'll know that before they let you on their radio show.

In my pre-screening interview, the only eyebrow-raising question Dani asked was if I thought it was a conspiracy that the mics were left on for reporters to witness the exchange.  I told her no, but that's probably done sometimes to either humanize or embarrass powerful people.  She also asked me if Obama would be hurt by the revelation of his disdain for Netanyahu, to which I responded that he probably would be if rabid Zionist Republicans went on the attack like they probably will.

My reservations in check, I decided to go on the show because I thought it would be funny - after all, why would British people care what a shmo like me thinks about anything? - and also an opportunity to address a broader audience on the issue of global imperialism, as represented by the G20 summit where the conversation took place.

When the show called me for a live interview, I was given about one minute total to address the issue at hand.  Asked about "the American response" to Obama's comments, I said something to the effect of:

Nobody likes seeing their country's figurehead do something foolish, especially on an international stage.  I don't know how this particular event will affect Obama.  It does seem like an unprofessional misstep.  Yet relations between world leaders are sometimes notoriously strained, as in the one between Sarkozy and Merkele.  If we are lucky enough to be employed, we all have a coworker we can't stand.  But it is a problem that so much global focus is on this one gaffe and we aren't examining who these 20 powers are that convened in the first place to make political and economic decisions that impact the rest of the world.

The BBC disconnected me from the conversation shortly after I made my comments, telling me "thank you, that's enough."  How very succinctly British.

I was glad I got in my points about Obama being a "figurehead" (as opposed to a leader), the existence of massive unemployment, and the global dominance engineered by the G20 to suit their own interests.

In the end, Dear Readers, even though I am now very famous from my token presence on British radio, I will still talk to you and be your friend.  And as far as my more detailed prepared remarks on US militaristic incursion in Palestine, there's always next week's show.

The people Occupying New Orleans

I stopped by the OccupyNOLA camp yesterday to try and meet up with the Anti-Racism Working Group, a coalition of organizers who examine race-, class-, and gender-based power and privilege within the OccupyNOLA encampment and broader society as a whole.

While a formal meeting failed to take place, I had a very tough yet very important conversations with some Occupiers there:

Jessica, a white 20-something member of the internal "Integrity Camp," whom I met while searching for the Working Group meeting, told me her role on-site is to act as night security for the encampment.  After hearing numerous reports of violence at the site, especially against women, Jessica and her companions decided to take on the responsibility of patrolling the area armed only with small cans of mace.  She said that since her group began its effort, all nighttime disputes have been resolved peacefully and without the use of force.

Jessica introduced me to Peter, a white Vietnam War veteran, who says he camps at OccupyNOLA because he wants a better world for his grandchildren.  Having worked hard all his life, including his two-year stint in a war zone on behalf of American interests, Peter found himself struggling to maintain his home and VA medical benefits.  "I can't imagine what young people think of this country," he said.  "We didn't know what we doing in Vietnam, but we knew America needed us.  These kids feel like America has nothing for them."

While Peter and I were talking, a few young white men sidled up to listen in.  After hearing that I was looking for the Anti-Racism Working Group, one of the men expressed his frustration with the group, accusing its members of being exclusionary and detached from the main encampment.  "They meet in a totally different place" than the other working groups, he said.  "And they waste time at [General Assemblies] talking about things that aren't relevant."  When pressed, he told me that some of the members "took over" a General Assembly one time to "force everyone to talk about power and privilege."

The other men sitting around us agreed that while power and privilege are important things to consider, their examination may not be appropriate in a setting such as a General Assembly, where "other things need to get done."

I was a little unsure how to approach the subject, as issues of power and privilege do indeed affect the goings-on at OccupyNOLA, even within so-called progressive organizing circles.  It seems that the work of an anti-racism group would be important, and even necessary, to help all OccupyNOLA participants examine the injustices that they personally may be complicit in furthering.  That is, just because someone commits themselves to camping out in opposition to police brutality, corporatocracy, or even capitalism at large, doesn't mean that individual has been able to acknowledge personal privilege that has the potential to exploit or silence others.  This is especially evident when Occupiers disrespect each other at different events, including General Assemblies, by interrupting, talking over one another, and committing other acts of repression.

Accordingly, I experienced this particular conversation with the young men by feeling a bit dismissed in my projected view that the things that actually "need to get done" should include deep and introspective inquiry into privilege, specifically pertaining to whiteness and maleness.  I had suggested that maybe the reason people were being turned off to the encampment had to do not only with the real threat of physical violence - however tempered by the internal security patrols - but also with the manifestation of structural and systemic violence against certain groups, including women and racial minorities.  The men I was talking to seemed mildly receptive to what I was saying, but there's clearly more work to be done as far as consciousness-raising goes.

Luckily, I had the fortune to meet up with another white female activist on my way out of the encampment, who agreed that OccupyNOLA should work towards establishing safe spaces for women on-site, much like the Occupy Wall Street organizers have done.

So there is plenty of room for progress at OccupyNOLA.  If participants can manage to have these tough conversations and really digest what's being presented, we may be able to collectively realize that overcoming issues of power and privilege doesn't distract form the "real work," it IS the real work to be done.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I have finally enhanced my online presence enough to have the NYU Wasserman Center call me to ask why I keep being mean to them on Twitter

My most loyal readers will remember that I began this blog back in 2009, following the advice of a counselor at the NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development, who told me to "enhance [my] online presence because all the jobs are in social media."

I was more than miffed by this response, as I had inquired as to how to market a degree in "Equality Studies" from The Gallatin(TM) School that awards diplomas in "Individualized Study," aka "Fuck around and read books for ~four years, and as long as you sound semi-smart at the end we'll graduate you."

In fact, I was so irritated I started the Shtetl Chic Media Empire (with matching Twitter account! to rant about how out-of-touch the NYU Wasserman Center is.

I figured I could put my critical analysis and writing skills to work for myself, seeing as how nobody else would hire me to use them.

The project quickly expanded, as the NYU registrar proved equally horrendous an institution, as did the U.S. State Department, the City of New York, food porn, New Orleans City Council, and the democratic process at large, among others.

And apparently - despite having under 300 Twitter followers - I have more influence than I think.  I am so annoying, in fact, that a certain "Heather Tranen" from the NYU Wasserman Center called me this afternoon to "open up dialogue" about how the Wasserman Center might better serve NYU students.

I was more than happy to oblige Ms. Tranen, who very patiently listened to me explain how the Wasserman Center's offer to have a 15-minute Skype call with unemployed NYU alumni, for example, could be perceived as condescending.

Don't offer tips for "acing the interview," I suggested, when interviews are just as hard to come by as jobs.

  • Don't imply to Gallatin(TM) students that our degrees don't matter, especially after so many go into debt and therapy just for attending NYU.  Degrees in individualized study prove success in self-direction, time management, and creativity, all useful skills to have in grad school and the workplace.
  • Educate career counselors about AmeriCorps, which functions as basically the backdoor entrance to the nonprofit sector in this country.  Let students know what sort of alternative direct-service employment options are available through the federal government, and how they may be used to further students' ambitions in public administration.  It's not enough to throw some PeaceCorps brochures in the waiting room of the Career Center.  I did an AmeriCorps service year because I couldn't find a real job after graduating college.  It was really difficult on many levels, especially because it didn't pay much. Maybe the Wasserman Center could have given me resources on personal budgeting and nonprofit management.  Instead, my counselor told me she wasn't "familiar" with AmeriCorps, but maybe I could Google it for her. [UPDATE: It should be noted that AmeriCorps and other similar "volunteer" organizations can have a destructive influence on the very issues and populations they intend to serve, mainly by ostracizing more locally appropriate initiatives and their advocates. That being said, it is not the most misguided federal program to alleviate poverty.]
  • Monitor the internal CareerNet job postings database so that advertisements for "Cat Whisperer Wanted" and sketchy English teaching positions in Taiwan don't supersede real and relevant career advancement opportunities.

And above all, I told Ms. Tranen, don't be confined by what Wasserman Center directors think you should say to students and recent graduates.  Tell us what we want to know, like what is a 401(k), what sort of graduate degrees should we select to further our career goals, and how do we market an NYU degree in regions outside of New York (such as here in Louisiana), where they don't really give a shit about my Yankee education, and in fact disdain it a little.

So thank you for reaching out to me, NYU Wasserman Center, and I hope that this counseling session has been productive for you.  I know I feel better.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Who hates (Occupy) Wall Street?

With any movement for change, you can depend on there being a counter-movement. No agitation comes without detraction, no matter how benign the goal is.

We all see how Barack Obama still gets ragged on for being a secret Muslim Kenyan socialist, even though he's the goshdamn president of the United States. And the change he advocated was pretty much more of the same, but with a black man instead.

So expectedly, the Occupy initiatives - which actually do demand real societal restructuring - are attracting some fullblown opposition from the usual suspects: conservatives, moderates, liberals, and everyone in between.

One view posted on the Harvard Crimson's website asserts that the Occupy movement is "politically ambiguous," and that the activists should "collaborate with people you don’t like [like the Democratic Party's elected officials] against an even greater evil," in this case, the Repulicans.

Subsequent comments on the post accuse the Occupations as being anti-political, anarchist, and "like a Phish concert." These suspicions are all a bit misinformed.

Firstly, framing the movement in terms of "America vs. an alternative" is truly reactionary.  What the Occupy movement seeks is an examination of this "America" and what/whom it represents. It is not enough to say that Republicans have it wrong and Democrats have it right, or vice versa.  It is still deeply and inherently political to say that this system is not working for many, many people, and has in fact served to hurt many, many people in its construction and existence.  The struggle for economic justice and social equality is what the Occupy participants are engaging.

As far as the radicalism of the movement is concerned, it is true that some Occupy participants subscribe to anarchism as the appropriate ideology through which to design an ideal society. Others believe in socialist cooperativism, and still others hold out hope for American democracy.  But it is more useful to see the Occupations as not a rejection of America's successes, but rather an awareness-building of America's failures: specifically in the realms of poverty, militarism, and systemic violence against women, racial minorities (including native peoples), undocumented immigrants, and others.

And if you go by and see the Occupy kids dancing and drumming, know that they are rejoicing in a newfound community of like-minded concerned people joining hands - and not fists, it should be said - in hope for a better society.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The "human mic" - a necessary evil?

Unlike many other #Occupation sites, in New Orleans we are allowed to use amplified devices, including speakers.  We've been using the "human mic" technique, through which the speaker delivers a few words or phrases to an audience who repeats in unison these words and phrases so everybody in the crowd can hear.

As you can imagine, this method can be very inefficient, nearly doubling the amount of time it takes to communicate an announcement, speech, proposal, or pep talk.  It would stand to reason that the use of a microphone and speakers would enhance the communication potential of such a gathering.

However, there has been a schism among #OccupyNOLA participants related to this issue, with many (sometimes up to half) of the people walking out of General Assemblies and other meetings where the speakers are being used.

The objection is mainly to what's perceived as the co-opting of the medium, which is definitely being done by a small group of white men who literally speak over other people during these meetings.

[These same men decided to disc-jockey the Day of Solidarity march this past Saturday, playing the classic NWA tune "Fuck tha Police" on a particularly desolate stretch of Canal Street when it was just us protestors and the police officers escorting us.  Not the strategic move for free speech I would have made, but hey, everyone occupies in their own way.  Chloe says: "Eliminate the root of oppression and the apparatus will disappear."]

So for now, I'm pro-human mic, despite its shortcomings. In a movement with at times disparate interests and messages, it's important that people think about what they're going to say and not take too much time to say it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Kris Kiefer may make a competent judge but he will never be a competent speller

As a newly registered voter in Orleans Parish, Louisiana (which maybe means New York County will stop calling me for jury duty?), I have been the ungrateful recipient of a barrage of campaign mail in the past few weeks.

It seems everybody and their mother is running for some sort of political office, using dubious rhetoric to sell their "fairness," "family values," and in one case, "love for Jesus" to the local populace.

Yesterday I received a postcard and a booklet from Kris Kiefer, who, if he is to be believed, "learned the importance of public service at a very early age from his father, former State Senator Nat Kiefer."

Now, I've learned a lot of things from my father, but spelling was not one of them.  And here it appears that Kris Kiefer and I have a lot in common.

Indeed, Mr. Kiefer may very well make a competent judge - or as he puts it, "JUDGE OF CIVIL DISTRICT COURT DIVISION E" (whatever that is) - but if his campaign materials are a reliable indicator, he will never be a competent speller.

As pictured above, Mr. Kiefer has committed the unspeakable gaffe of confusing "whose" for "who's."  One is a possessive pronoun, the other a contraction (contextually) representing the phrase "who has."  This sort of indecent misuse of our language underlines the need for education quality reform in Orleans Parish, which hopefully is not under the jurisdiction of CIVIL DISTRICT COURT DIVISION E.

Indeed, Mr. Kiefer's so-called "impeccable credentials" certainly do not seem to extend to literacy skills, or even critical thinking:  As I'm sure good old Kris did not singlehandedly write, edit, and publish, this pamphlet, it stands to reason that he could have hired a competent writer, editor, or publisher at any point during the pamphlet-creation process, if only for the sole purpose of compensating for his own poor spelling ability.  You know, have someone look over the postcard for typos and grammatical mistakes before mailing it out to the city of New Orleans and the one shitbag who might write a blogpost about it.

[At least that's what I would have done, only I'm an excellent speller. Just ask Lara Weissman, who, in what amounted to a brutal and cutthroat battle at Dorchester Elementary in 1997, lost the 4th grade spelling bee to me.]

But back to the matter at hand.  Mr. Kiefer's lack of foresight, attention to detail, and blatant misuse of my voter registration information - What party is he anyway? How does he feel about the issues/patriarchy? - have truly lost my vote for him. Plus he used my middle name on the address sticker, and nobody but my mom is allowed to do that. Oh, you could probably ask her about the spelling bee too. She was very proud.

UPDATE: He also forgot the apostrophe between "16 years" and "experience."  Even the preposition "of" would have sufficed.  Jesus, Mr. Kiefer, you're really losing it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

An open letter to #OccupyNOLA

I have had a complicated time with the #OccupyWallStreet solidarity movement in New Orleans.  Engaged in ideological battles on Twitter and plain old personality clashes at the campsite, I've found it best to keep a healthy distance from the organizers, who I fear are subverting - however unwittingly - the purpose and potential of the event in favor of dogmatic methodology and politics of exclusion.

I posted the following on the public form at It isn't a comprehensive list of my suggestions, but I'll add to it as I figure out how to articulate them better.
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

An open letter to #OccupyNOLA:

Congratulations on your successes thus far. It is wonderful to know that such engaged, earnest people live in this city and are motivated to change things for the better.

However, a few issues continue to nag me, and I would like to share them here, where I hope they are received in the positive and supportive spirit from which they come.

Over the past week, I have been trying to tell the #OccupyNOLA organizers that they should not get so defensive in response to detractors.  Those who might criticize are likely doing so constructively, and are working simultaneously towards the movement's productive ends. It is frustrating to see such miscommunication and anxiety amount to catty infighting in virtual reality as well as on the campsite itself.

To the facilitators and organizers, I would like to say that your hard work is acknowledged. You are working for a better system and a better world. That is beautiful and important. However, you are valuing process over progress.

This is especially evident at the General Assemblies, during which whole hours are devoted to technical debate concerning the "need" to reach consensus. I hate to break it to you, but sometimes consensus is inefficient and not at all worthwhile. Somebody is always going to feel duped, compromised, or disappointed. Better to arrive at collectivist-as-possible conclusions and implement them directly and quickly, instead of harping on a method that may not be appropriate here. More bluntly, just because you are hoarse from talking does not mean you have actually said anything.

Relatedly, I am seeing the same people facilitate assemblies, "run" working groups, and produce proposals. This means that most other people are being ostracized by either the individuals or the mechanisms of operation. That is, the process is not serving the majority's communications needs.  Not everybody feels comfortable being human miked in front of 50-100 people. Not everybody wants to raise points of information, fearing condescension or marginalization from the responders.

Please accept this feedback as hopeful and sincere. I am excited that New Orleans is present in the national movement these "occupations" have produced. However, further examination of our methods and messages is urgent and necessary. For example, is the language of occupation something that we really want to endorse as revolutionary or progressive? When participants clamor for "more diversity" at the assemblies and workshops, isn't the onus on them to listen to community members and make sure the goals of #OccupyNOLA are relevant to all those exploited by our current system?

Keep moving forward, and be aware that while not everybody will want to fit in in our movement, they should still be welcome to it.

In solidarity,
Arielle Schecter

"Colored Only" Sale at Jo-Ann's Fabric & Crafts

From time to time in a woman's life, she finds herself in a crafting store.

Normally these emporia scare the bojangles out of me, what with their seemingly endless aisles of useless shit to crochet, macrame, applique, and etouffer.

But today, needing to replace the red sequin trim on my Muffalotta costume, I held my breath and hoped for the best.

And what did I find among the knick-knacks and bric-a-brac at my local Jo-Ann's Fabric & Crafts? This suspicious sale notice:

Now ordinarily, something like this would not catch my eye. I've already insinuated that I don't give a flying fuck about "Home Inspirations," beyond my interest in hanging curtains so my creepy neighbor, Dennis the Menace, can't look in on me between episodes of dumping macaroni and cheese on my car or stealing his elderly mother's painkillers.

But the stipulation that this sale was exclusive to "colored only" gave me pause, especially because the "Pottery & Containers" in question were all painted white.

Such suspect advertising reveals a certain nefarious element at work within the Jo-Ann's Fabric & Crafts corporate empire, leading to any one of the following conclusions:
  • The Jo-Ann's staff are unscrupulous in advertising a sale on products that do not exist, leading customers to believe they are getting a deal when in fact they are not only not getting a deal but are (along with all future generations of their descendents) being undermined by ecologically unsound paper and ink use at their local crafts store;
  • The Jo-Ann's staff are actually very progressive - if a little daft in their use of the term "colored" - in that they are hosting a sale just for non-Caucasians, who inarguably have suffered plenty in the consumer and home economics spheres; 
  • The staff at Jo-Ann's are actually conniving racists scheming to sell products that do not exist to non-Caucasians who might be attracted to the sale while simultaneously getting kicked in the gut and wallet by a racial slur on a false advertisement; or
  • Jo-Ann's is just awkward. 
In any event, I forwent the "sale" and hightailed it out of that confusing and bedazzled den of iniquity, sequins in tow, determined never to return again.  Unless, that is, I'm inspired and there's another sale.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th, today

September 11th.  "Nine-eleven."

The date is always a problem: How to remember?  How to forget?  How to move on?  And, given the current historio-political realities, can or should we even be thinking about "moving on"?

When the attacks happened - and the word "attacks" in my opinion convolutes the somewhat counteroffensive quality the Al Qaeda actions employed, if we are to believe the anti-imperialist rhetoric of the organization - I was in high school in the Bronx.

More precisely, I was trying to figure out my scheme for history class, having neglected to do homework on the Dutch role in Triangular Trade.   We were called into the gym for a school-wide assembly, where big television monitors were hooked up to the news.

We watched the second tower get hit, and we watched both of them crumble.  It was very scary, odd, unnerving, sad, confusing, and everything and nothing.

Cellphone networks were down, so getting in touch with family was difficult.  I ended up spending the night with cousins, as rumors conflicted about bomb scares and what roads and bridges were shut down.

I think school was closed for a day or two while the damage was assessed.  One of my good friends went to a school in Lower Manhattan that was used for weeks as a triage center for the wounded.

I remember putting red, white, and blue ribbons in my hair as a sign of solidarity with the victims.  I also remember a friend bitching about how another student won an art contest later in the school year, for her photo of a seated man cupping his head in his hands, "only because it has a stupid American flag on the hat and everyone thinks it's deep."

Every subsequent year of high school, we had assemblies on the anniversary date to process what we understood to have happened.  Our Quaker principal tried to introduce the "silent meeting," during which individuals were to speak only if we were moved to do so.  Unfortunately for his good intentions, the majority of the student body was far too moved/egocentric to let any silence linger in the room.

It was a confusing time, a self-absorbed, unawakened time in my life.  I didn't understand the motives for the attacks or the subsequent wars, or why people would still sign up to be soldiers, or how oil reserves figured into all of this.  It didn't make sense to me why people would fly a plane into a building just to make it fall down, who would think of such a thing, and who would want to be involved in a suicide mission like that.

In college, people used to ask me where I was on "9/11," and if I knew anybody who had died.  I always thought it was weird that other people cared, even though I remember seeing German people on TV hold vigils for the victims, and watching other commemorations around the globe.

I guess it comes down to a sense of ownership over the occasion, having been in New York City at the time it happened.  I was even upset at my sister for doing a computer project about it, thinking "Why should she have feelings about this?  She goes to school in New Jersey."

These feelings were from a place of uncertainty.  Where does September 11th belong in the individual or collective memory?  What should we have though about it at the time, and what should we make of it at this point?

Over the past ten years, I have thought about September 11th both often and infrequently.  It is not good to dwell, but it is good to remember, I suppose.

It is hard to talk about, and sometimes hard to think about.

Sometimes it is frustrating, especially when I think about how even the day's name has been co-opted by militaristic, opportunistic, proto-Fascist elements in this country, who have led us down from a pedestal of international grief and goodwill to a pit of overreaching, bankrupting pan-continental imperial aggression.  And while there is a lot to think about, there is really not a lot it seems that I can do.

This year I joined the New Orleans Jewish Federation in doing a community service project to mark the date's passing.  We were mudding a house for a lady who has been displaced since Hurricane Katrina.  That is fucking ridiculous.  And here we are as a nation, spending money on stealth bombers and bullshit, when we can't even fix a woman's house six years after it got flooded.

[I always feel a little guilty doing projects like that, because I think it lets the powers-that-be off the hook for taking care of these things.  Like, why should I spend my free time fixing these things when they really shouldn't have happened in the first place, and whose progress has been thoroughly impeded by a gross compendium of negligent government engineering programs, unscrupulous insurance companies, and predatory contractors?]

On the way to the work site, I was listening to NPR coverage of the memorial ceremonies in New York, DC, and Pennsylvania.  I started to cry hearing the bells ring behind the children's voices saying the names of their parents who died.

I felt stupid for crying, but glad that I could still get worked up about something so genuinely awful.

If it is awful just for the death of people with loved ones, then it is awful enough.  If it is awful for its place in U.S.  history as the impetus for far-reaching military invasion in the lives of foreigners and nationals alike, it is still awful.  And I'm not sure I'll ever know how to remember it properly.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Liveblogging Tropical Storm Lee, Part Deux

Not raining.

I'm hungry, Chloe says.
It's seven in the morning, kitty.  Stop stepping on my face like that please.
I'm hungry.
Okay, I'm getting up.
I'm hungry now.
I mean it.

Still not raining.  I'm going for a run, ie: fast walk.

Mmm, brunch.  The best meal of the day.  It's still not really raining.  Off to the gay parade.

Got to the Quarter at the "tail" end of the Decadence parade.  Good stuff.  It was drizzling for most of the time, which did not at all dampen my enthusiasm for the 90s-tastic outdoor dance party on Royal.  It is still drizzling, which means I have no excuse but to balance my checkbook and put away laundry and do other fun adult things that I enjoy immensely.

This storm is a bust, but has done wonders for my desk organization system!  What a holiday weekend.

I think that about does it for T. S. Lee.  There's been flooding in other parts of the city, but we're good here.  I would like to thank my fans for their undying support (especially Gaby and Mom), and Geico, for sending me so many sturdy envelopes that now hold my freshly organized bank statements, medical records, and James Baldwin interview printouts.  Too-da-loo!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Liveblogging Tropical Storm Lee

Well it appears natural disasters follow me around, so it's only right to liveblog all of them.  It poured all through last night, and I understand that it will continue to rain heavily until the sin of humanity is washed out.  It is, after all, Decadence/Dykeadence weekend here in New Orleans.

So without further ado, here's what's happening:

I wake up to see my cat staring at me in the eyeballs.  This is very unnerving.  I wish she would stop doing this every day.  It is still kind of raining outside.

I go outside to put our garbage and recycling cans back on the sidewalk, the wind having knocked them over to the curb.  I go across the street to fix the garbage can for our neighbor, who tells me that the guy who just moved into the house next door had a heroin overdose the other day.  "He said it was his first time trying it," our neighbor says.  "Hmmm," we agree.  Time to go back inside.

Not raining at all.  Good thing I bought all that bottled water.

I go over to my friends' house, where we drink wine and talk about the impending doom.  One of my friends is in the Coast Guard, so I feel like if he's not worried, I'm not worried.

My Coast Guard friend is worried.


Home.  Making couscous.  Oh man, it's actually quinoa.  Why do I always confuse the two?  Still not raining.

Kind of raining?  What a tease.

I did not download enough Law and Order to last me through this tropical storm.  Good thing I have a shit ton of quinoa for provisions.

Storm preparations in full effect.  Got my water, about to take a nap, but not before watching that video of a teenage boy singing "Paparazzi."  He's so good, I seriously watch it like once a month.

Making tea while wearing a feather boa.  It is important to ride out natural disasters in style.

Here is a picture of Chloe the cat with a feather boa.  She is very unfazed by this whole storm business.  I have found that the number of page views on my blog increases dramatically when I post a picture of my cat.  This either means everyone else on the internet loves Chloe as much as I do, or my friend Collin is just clicking and reclicking on the links because he is weird also and likes pictures of cats.  But really who could blame him.  I mean, look at this punim!

My boy Campbell wrote this article for the Times, quoting Mayor Landrieu on this storm being "stranger" than others seen on the Gulf Coast.  We must not be misled by the on-again-off-again rain, the mayor says.  "Please do not be lulled."  Yet all this non-storm action is pretty lulling.  Bedtime for me.

We will continue this liveblog here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Liveblogging Hurricane Irene

The last time I liveblogged anything, it was the birth of my niece, Aviva.  That was a good day.  Today is a stupid day. I came up from New Orleans last week and so far have gone through an earthquake and a partial evacuation of the island of Manhattan. So much for lazing on the beach all week.  They've closed the MTA and it has been very hard to find beer and batteries on the Upper West Side.  Wolf Blitzer has been deploying his lackeys to rainy coasts down the shore of New Jersey.  We've decided not to tape the windows, and I have no choice but to settle in for my third cocktail and hope for the best. ¡Olé!

Nothing has happened, except a little rain.  Wolf Blitzer continues to deluge the public with his threats of natural and unnatural violence.  Like I said, nothing has happened.

A few people have died in Virginia, it seems.  One of them had a heart attack while hammering plywood to his windows.  This is why hurricane preparations are bunk, for the most part.  This is also how I feel about exercise. Why take the risk of having a heart attack during a jog when you can just have a heart attack sitting on the couch eating Cheetos?

We took Rudy the dog for a walk.  We are not supposed to go down to the pier in Riverside Park, but we braved the soggy yellow "CAUTION WET PAINT" tape and went anyway.  Nothing like a hurricane to bring out the hidden thrills of the Upper West Side.

ConEd is threatening to cut off power to Lower Manhattan, and  Bloomberg says he will not evacuate Rikers Island. 

Nassau County is opening shelters for residents of storm surge zones.  There are reportedly 500 customers without power on Long Island.  We can see lightning from our window.  Rudy is snoring on the couch, embodying the true meaning of the calm before the storm.

The good people at Critical Resistance are pushing a petition for Mayor Bloomberg to evacuate Rikers Island, as it is at risk for major flooding.  From the linked article:  "Its ten jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness–not to mention pre-trial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime. There are also hundreds of corrections officers at work on the island... 'According to the city’s Department of Correction, no hypothetical evacuation plan for the roughly 12,000 inmates that the facility may house on a given day even exists.'"

They closed the George Washington Bridge.  Two Staten Island kayakers had to be rescued by NYPD harbor officers. I have no comment on that last one.

A member of the press corps asked Bloomberg why Rikers Island isn't being evacuated. He said "there's no reason to."  Referring to homeless people, he also said that the MTA isn't "100% sure" that the subways have been evacuated.  "Bottom line is, you shouldn't be living in the subways."  Looks like somebody should take some sensitivity classes at mayor school.

The Fung Wah buses are being used to transport residents of public housing in Lower Manhattan to temporary shelters.  I wonder if they'll put the folding chairs in the aisles like they do during regular business hours.

It's pouring.  I'm going to bed.

Haha "feisty senior citizens" yell at the CNN reporter in Atlantic City about how they're from "good stock" and won't evacuate.

CNN is asking Police Commissioner Ray Kelly if we should be concerned about the "looting and violence" that New Orleans experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  He says that the police will do their best to "maintain order" but people should not leave their valuables at home.

Ugh too many Katrina references on the news.  Let's hope we don't have an MP crackdown in New York if this thing really is as bad as they're saying.

Soaking wet and windblown CNN reporter: "I didn't know you could have tornadoes in the middle of a hurricane."
CNN Weather Guy in the studio: "Uh, yes."

I've had enough of this nonsense.  Hopefully nothing will happen.  Good night, Irene.

Sunday, August 28th
It's still raining. I'm going back to sleep.

Still raining.  I'm having such a weird dream about Lyndon Johnson.  He's asking me to make him a list of college-bound students who can sing well and fix the highway.

Me: "Did I miss the hurricane?"
Mom: "Yeah."
Me: "Oh."
My sister: "It's a tropical storm now."
Mom: "Don't go in the park. All the trees are falling down."
My sister: "Want to go to the Food Emporium?"

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Olive Juice, Mid-City

The first time I went to the Olive Branch Cafe, I was under duress. I had locked my keys inside my car while returning books to the Mid-City library, already running late for a staff meeting at my job across town.  I needed to enlist someone to break into my car, and luckily for me, Olive Branch Cafe owner and manager, Russell "Rusty" Autry, was just the man for the job.

Well, to his credit, Rusty didn't actually break into my car. But he sat me down, gave me a root beer, and called one of his regulars who worked for Pop-A-Lock. In short, Rusty hooked me up in a big way, totally out of the kindness of his heart. He wouldn't even let me buy a bar tab for the Pop-A-Lock guy.

A few months later (while paying fines at that same library), I thought I'd have a proper meal at the Olive Branch. I sat down to enjoy a veritable feast of delicious food and quirky tidbits about Rusty's vision for the restaurant.

The Mid-City location is actually the third Olive Branch Cafe in New Orleans; the original two are pizzerias on the Westbank. In its three years of operation in the American Can Building, it has offered an eclectic menu spanning the cuisines of Cajun country (jambalaya, red beans and sausage), the Mediterranean (Italian sub, hummus tahini), and beyond (Cuban sandwich, "Asian-inspired" Shastri sandwich).

My dining companion and I indulged in the sweet citrus salad, the flavorful eggplant sandwich, and the surprisingly tasty match of bleu cheese and sweet potato chips. "We try to do foods creatively," the kitchen head, Chef Mike, explained. "But nothing too fancy."

"The concept is always developing," Rusty said, describing how his business is more than just food. "We want to provide a really good neighborhood feel."

The taste of Louisiana is found not only in the smoky balsamic dressing on an off-the-menu Gulf shrimp salad, but also in the artwork adorning the restaurant's walls. Rusty took care to incorporate local flavor in the decorations, proudly pointing out that the hand-crafted fleur de lis suspended from the dining room ceiling is "probably the largest fleur de lis in the city." Mixed-media installations utilize artistically repurposed storm debris from Hurricane Katrina.

To the tunes of a pop-tastic 80s dance soundtrack, we ate our way through enormous portions of garlicky cayenne-spiced hummus, a customized redfish and spinach wrap - the kitchen is very accommodating of a la carte and vegetarian orders - and what seemed like an endless pile of perfectly
textured sweet potato fries.

Two hours later, we walked out with to-go boxes, Chef Mike's recipe for the balsamic Gulf shrimp salad - "They say chefs shouldn't share their secrets, but why not?" - and a promise to return soon. As soon as those library books need to be renewed.

* * * Simulcast on!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Winehouse in the black for real this time

* Now simulcast on NOLAFemmes!

Amy Winehouse died today, and you can read all about it on the righteous Huffington Post obituary that reminds us her demise was just a "slo-mo car crash."

Her death is not altogether shocking, but it is disturbing nonetheless.

In a sense, her artistic marketability stemmed from a bad-girlification of 1960s soul music.  She was a skinny, tatted-up tough girl from working-class London, with big hair and a voice to match.  Her struggles with (or seeming acceptance of) drug addiction only enhanced her reputation as a true entertainer, one with moxie, attitude, and presence.

Fans relished her bad behavior, cheering lyrics like "You love blow and I love puff" ("Back to Black") and "I told you I was trouble / You know that I'm no good" ("You Know That I'm No Good").  Her refusal to go to rehab was celebrated in a Grammy-winning song ("Rehab"), in which Winehouse admits to suffering from addiction and depression.

This glorification of mental illness and self-destructive behavior sends mixed messages to those who also struggle with these issues.  Winehouse's drug use was not only acceptable but legitimized by her celebrity status.  This was a double validation:  Her drug use fed into her being perceived as a rock star, and her being a rock star forgave her drug use.  And now she's dead, and no one's surprised.

So what does it take to remove the idolatry from substance abuse?  The wasted talents of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and many others including Amy Winehouse now, have all developed into a tragic mythos of "forever young," without acknowledgement of what really ripped these creative beings from our midst.  The real scourge is untreated suffering, the exaltation of which prevents honesty, recovery, and true grit from being communicated to a public sold on the dangerous cheapness of entertainment.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Record/Panty Raid Part Deux

My illustrious journalistic career is back in full swing, ie: I just cannot keep my blogging to myself.

The latest on NoDef is a sneak peak at the upcoming Summer Record Raid, this Saturday at Siberia and the Hi-Ho Lounge.  It is also a glance at the life and times of Hunter King, the Dr. Pepper-swilling surfer-rock DJ and all-around good guy responsible for bringing vinyl to the masses of New Orleans.

Here's to dusty gems and the lucky scourers who find them!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Weird Shit from the New Orleans Public Library: Volume 1

When I moved here from New York, I was so excited about making a new home for myself I gave very little thought to what “home” actually meant.  It took exactly one week for me to start missing things: first bagels, then pizza, then more substantive things, like walkable sidewalks and meetings starting on time.

I tried to create a comfortable space in my house that would bring me daily reminders of what I love about New York, like subway maps and photos of my family.  Yet there was always an unsettled quality about this space, and it wasn’t for a while that I realized it was because I had no books.

And with that introduction, I am proud to welcome you, dear Reader, to a new Shtetl Chic feature, "Weird Shit from the New Orleans Public Library,"  simulcast by the lovely women's group blog NOLAFemmes.  Check it out!

Thanks to the talented and wonderful Kate Fogle for suggesting the NOLAFemmes connection.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Riding a bike can increase your dating pool, and not always in the good way

A few weeks ago I was riding my bike along Frenchmen Street, a jazz club strip near the French Quarter, when a man called out to me:

"Hey baby! I was thinking of you blowing me with that helmet on!"

Now while I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds the sexiness in bicycle safety, such comments generally confuse, frighten, or anger me.  This time, I waved the man off with a scoff and a "That's nice for you."  But the male companion I was riding with got really upset and asked if he should double back and confront the guy.  I told him no, that it wasn't worth it, and he should hear the things people say to me when I don't have a guy with me.

Sadly, this experience was just another consequence of our social failure to create and guarantee safe spaces for women.  It is a marker of civilization when women can walk/bike down the street without fear of verbal or bodily attack. Work on it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Who said the Homosexual Agenda was a radical one?

It is not often I uphold the New York Post as a beacon of expertise in anything except clever headline writing, but this piece on marriage is pretty en pointe, as the French say, especially when they're talking about something gay.

It seems that the Post columnist makes a connection between Archbishop Timothy Egan and pro football player David Tyree, both of whom agree that gay marriage poses an "ominous threat" (Egan's words) to the "moral fabric of the country" (Tyree's), potentially leading to "anarchy" (Tyree's).

Now I'm inclined to believe that if anything is going to contribute to anarchy in this country, it's not going to be a bunch of committed homosexual couples petitioning the state for healthcare and tax cuts, which are the essential rationales behind government-sanctioned marriage in this country.

In any event, the good people over at Against Equality have some valid points about the whole affair, including the assertion that gay people (and their non-gay allies) who fight for marriage equality are actually fighting against their own best interests:

Gay marriage apes hetero privilege . . . [It] increases economic inequality by perpetuating a system which deems married beings more worthy of the basics like health care and economic rights.

That is, the goal of gay marriage is a misguided one. It situates the "homosexual agenda" within a heteronormative paradigm without confronting the inherent injustices of that model.

Historically, marriage has been the legal structure through which a man takes a wife as part of his property, and therefore is able to produce heirs.  Since then, marriage has remained the institution that guarantees access to one's spouse's resources, including health insurance, citizenship status, and financial assets.

The fight for gay marriage legitimizes the use of this institution to deny nonmarried couples access to each other's resources.  Why is the state needed to sanctify commitment when marriage is clearly an anachronistic legal means to arbitrate property issues?

But if we as a society are to continue placing a high value on marriage - not only for economic ends but emotional as well - then we should examine what exactly qualifies as "marriage material."

For more, we turn to Kathy Edin, an ethnographer based in Philadelphia, whose research concerns unwed parents in low-income households.  Assuming the relationship stability that marriage represents, she investigated the reasons why lower-income couples choose to remain unmarried despite being romantically involved and having children together.  She found that among her interview subjects:

Marriage is the finish line. It's the frosting on the cake; it's graduation, once you've achieved financial stability and you have some of the accoutrements of middle-class success, like maybe a mortgage and two working cars, and maybe some money in the bank, and you've really put your relationship through the test of time . . . So it's not that marriage isn't taken seriously. I would say that it's taken too seriously, in some ways.

Again we see marriage as a marker of socioeconomic status, and one perceived as inaccessible by many impoverished couples.  So why fight for it?  I suppose as long as it remains a guarantor of necessary social resources, it is important for the wellbeing of one's beloved.  That, and my grandmother would kill me if I died a swinging single.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Babushkas make us proud on Eurovision

It is a great day for the shtetl chic among us when old Russian women compete on European musical talent shows.

The Buranovo Babushkas are a group of elderly widows from the Udmurt republic in eastern Russia.  They sing Beatles songs and other popular rock music, which they translate into their language and perform all across Europe.

Normally, I'd tell such a class act to break some legs, but we have to be gentle with these particular artists:  One of the women accidentally amputated her own arm several years ago, and according to NPR, "her prosthetic arm is too heavy for her to wear all the time. She saves it for concerts, where she's singing, smiling and dancing."

And that, dear Readers, is the queen of the shtetl.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happy Day-After Hump Day!

This has been a bit of a stressful period in your editor's life, dear Reader, what with the underemployment leaving a few too many hours in the week to watch Law and Order: SVU marathons while changing the font on my resume a hundred times in the hopes that Calibri might be my ticket towards realizing the value of an undergraduate degree in "Equality Studies."  In any event, it's been one of those days when you realize that maybe railing against the yoke of imperial oppression on your blog won't get you too far out of your $9/hour pay grade, and it certainly won't undo the recently discovered fact that your ex married the girl he left you for and now they're having a baby.

But such musings don't help anyone get through the day, and certainly not the kind of day that is sweltering so bad the cat hasn't moved in three hours.  But to this I say, Carpe diem, motherfuckers! Those dishes won't do themselves! Here are a few interesting things going on around town:

This salad I made:
And yes I know it looks like stewed tuna with kelp and blackberries, but it was actually semi-delicious and well within the parameters of the Shtetl Chic exclusive feature, Food I've Cooked That Looks Terrible And Might Taste That Way Too.

This bug I saw in my yard:

Seriously, the thing was demonic.  Nothing like a brush with nature to make you want to go inside.

And finally, the headline to this article, "New Orleans Resident Poised to Participate in World Championship Spartan Death Race." Don't fret, dear Reader.  It is not about me. The extent of my physical exertion lately has been coaxing the cat into learning how to roll over:

Kitty sez, just because you're bored doesn't mean I have time for this nonsense.

So with that, I am taking on the day, and I hope you have a splendid one as well.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Whole Foods as a site of commodity fetishism - in media, so it's meta!

I found this neat video called "It's Gettin' Real in the Whole Foods Parking Lot" on the internet this afternoon, and thought I'd share it with the Shtetl Nation.  It's pretty clever, featuring a white man rapping about the postmodern perils of upscale grocery shopping, but its real genius lies in its ability to combine two of my major interests in life: quinoa and cultural commodification.

I once took a class called "Race, Gender, and the Media," in which we explored the colonialist impulse to identify and appropriate the cultural markings of "exotic" groups.  In this way, these groups become less threatening and more conquerable.  Evidence of this practice can be found in modern media: when Gwen Stefani profits from parodying Japanese culture in her music and fashion line, when Smirnoff releases a "gangster rap" video featuring white performers swilling its latest beverage offering, and other similar examples.

Below is an excerpt from a paper  - - years after college, I'm still recycling papers - - I wrote for that class, in which I examine parodic representations of race in the above-mentioned Smirnoff commercial and Weird Al's satirical take on a rap song popular at that time, "Ridin' Dirty." I think the footnotes are jacked, but the ideas are still just as relevant: Nothing is too sacred to be packaged and sold, even that which is derived from racism.

This Whole Foods video presents issues of cultural appropriation similar to those I address in the following text.  The white protagonist uses the rap music medium - traditionally a form of black artists - to express an experience that is solidly in the realm of the white upper class - shopping at Whole Foods.  In fact, the only black people featured in the film are Whole Foods employees, one of whom apparently was solicited to rap a line towards the end of the song.  It is possible this inclusion was intended to legitimize the song as real rap, with a real black person rapping in it.

So all humor aside, this video presents a white man taking ownership over what has traditionally been a black art form, one that derives from rough-and-tumble urban culture often used to address concerns of poverty, abuse by police, and other markings of systematic racism.  The man adopts this form to chronicle concerns over finding a parking space for his expensive hybrid car. The irony is that such a character profile lends the suggestion that there is concern for bodily and environmental health, though the use of the rap medium betrays an indifference or even mockery of real social ills.

Gangsta culture, born from historical race- and class-based oppression, commonly expresses suspicion of white people and seeks to ostracize them through the establishment of social codes that legitimize the inclusion of a select black community. Weird Al Yankovic and Smirnoff use their respective films, "White and Nerdy" and "Tea Partay," to depict the white experience of this social dynamic. The videos fashion a white identity in relation to a stereotyped version of gangsta culture, and though they intend to target their humor at these decidedly un-gangsta white people, ultimately the films serve to reinforce the existing reality of white social dominance.
The white-produced videos' negative depictions of white people as preppy and nerdy are forms of mimicry representative of Rosa Linda Fregoso's "humor as subversive de-construction" ethic, through which the white characters use their own stereotyped conceptions of gangsta culture to confront social dynamics that favor blacks by denigrating whites. In these films, white people use rap, a black art form developed to express the oppressive experience of racism and classism, to challenge what they perceive as degradation by this same black community.

The white characters embody a sort of subverted inferiority complex; they feel insecurely unhip(hop) and self-consciously white. Yankovic opines of his protagonist's black neighbors, "They see me roll on my Segway / I know in my heart they think I'm white and nerdy."   Though Yankovic's protagonist professes a wistful desire to "roll with the gangstas," his basic message, as well as that of "Tea Partay," ultimately promotes his socially dominant position as a white person. The "Tea Partay" characters unapologetically rap that "haters love to clown our Ivy League educations / but they're just jealous 'cause our families run the nation." In both films, the characters overcome the "haters" by promoting their own mastery of their own chosen arts: for Yankovic, computer skills and science fiction; for the "Tea Partay" characters, wealthy WASP culture and its political, culinary, and athletic trappings.
Such parodic racial relativity, coupled with the "Tea Partay" characters' overt whiteness - that is to say, the actors clearly are not of Asian, African, or Hispanic origin -, extends white dominance into spheres of black expression and power, thus further subjugating nonwhites. The fact that Yankovic's character may not invade this sphere speaks to the oppressive, fear-governed social dynamic that dictates that nonwhite "ethnic groups are not only the object of prejudice, they are also the object of envy...The dominant white middle-class groups...find in the ethnic and racial groups which are the object of their social repression and status contempt at one and the same time the image of some older collective ghetto or ethnic neighborhood solidarity."

The "Tea Partay" characters create their own version of this "solidarity" to confront the truth that they also have no valid place inside black gangsta culture. However, the "Tea Partay" characters  manage to circumvent the hopelessness that the Yankovic character expresses upon finding himself on the wrong side of an exclusive social grouping; they create the "New England gangsta" personality by first appropriating the term "gangsta."
Unlike Yankovic's protagonist, the "Tea Partay" characters do not seem to need black people for self-validation. They too use black gangsta culture as a social referent to govern acceptable behaviors (colloquial mannerisms, for one), but only to the extent that they may transmute the gangsta esthetic to fit their own preppy style; "Tea Partay" and "White and Nerdy" in this way use gangsta culture as an artistic model....

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My mailman is very good but not everyone's is

One of the benefits of funderemployment is the excellent people-watching that can be accomplished during regular business hours.

At the Poland Avenue post office on a recent afternoon, a flustered customer was observed complaining to the clerk that her mail was being delivered to her neighbor's house.

What were her options, she asked, so that her untrustworthy neighbor couldn't steal her identity/coupon circulars:

"You don't have no idea what kind of busted up shit that bitch can do!" she explained. "I'm not tripping or nothing, but shit."

After speaking to the clerk's supervisor, the customer left in a fury.  I probably would have done the same, considering the advice she received, which was to "just ask your neighbor to give you back your mail."

And there you have it, from the nation's finest.  You know if an ambulance, a fire engine, a police car, and a mail truck all meet at a four-way intersection, the mail truck has the right of way because it's a federal vehicle?  Seems about right, for social priorities and stuff.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Everything I did in high school I did for the safety of the whole gay universe

The New York Times has a beautiful multimedia piece today on LGBTQ youth and their coming-out stories.

It bothers me a little that these brave young people are being used as a prop in the Times' effort to create edgy feature content, but I think it's good to confront their experiences in such a mainstream venue.

In high school I started a publication called Lola's Kitchen with my Gay Straight Alliance co-president.  It used poetry, cartoons, and interviews to document the culture of homophobia, transphobia, and other markers of ignorance that permeated our society and school, which is widely considered a liberal institution of secondary education in New York City.

I wouldn't say my co-editor and I got harassed so much as hassled for our work, but one time the Head of School told us we couldn't distribute the publication in the admissions office and during visiting week for admitted students.  She didn't want us to "misrepresent" the student body to newcomers.  So of course we put extra copies in the admissions office during that week.

Six years out of high school, I'm saddened at the familiarity of the stories from these New York Times interviewees.  The word "gay" is slung around like an insult, kids are afraid to tell their parents that they have a crush on someone of their own gender, and in the midst of a transitional life period, teenagers feel they have to hide the individiuals they are becoming.

Any inroads have been slow in the making, and I remain sickened by the regressive social mainstream in this country. Young people are robbed of their sense of self-worth by ignorance-fueled hostility, and for what?  There's enough to fear in the world without fearing that you must hide who you are, or that you will never fall in love, or that everybody hates you because you are gay.

Lola's Kitchen is now listed on the school's Wikipedia page as a publication showcasing student ingenuity, and tours for applicants and admitted students have a stop in front of the Gay Straight Alliance meeting room. I can only hope the experiences of the Times' interviewees turn around for them so they can fully realize their own value.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Food Porn - Episode 2: Passover Potato Kugel

The food of my people is dense, sometimes complicated, nutritious, always guilt-ridden.  My mother makes these massive feasts for the Jewish holidays that go totally underappreciated yet voraciously consumed.

One of my favorite Passover dishes is her potato kugel, which is kind of like a cross between a frittata and a casserole.  She emailed me her recipe, and here we have the second installment (pilot episode here) of Food I've Cooked that Looks Terrible and Might Taste That Way Too:

One of my issues with recipe-following is that so much knowledge is taken for granted.  For example, the kugel recipe calls for "four to six potatoes."  Now right off the bat we have a misleading command. The difference between four and six potatoes is kind of a big deal.  If I use four, the ratio of potato to other stuff will be different than if I use five or six.  Also, how big are these potatoes?  Do I peel them?  Can they be kind of soft like potatoes get when you forget you've had them in the fridge for a while?

Anyway, I rustled up three decent-sized red potatoes and hoped for the best.  Maybe I would add rosemary?  Maybe I would just give up.  But no!  My people wandered for 40 years in the desert and I could stick to this in honor of them.  Also, my roommate kept me well motivated with wine and my new favorite song.

So I was going at the potatoes with the grater, but then it got to the point where I had too many near-finger-amputations to say fuck it, let's just throw this in the food processor. Then I had what looked like a mound of cat food in the bowl - why do potatoes turn pink like that? - so I had no choice but to keep things rolling.

The recipe called for a "finely chopped onion," but who has time for that? Besides, I think it's fun to have differently sized pieces of things floating around in my food.  Then you can play a tableside game such as the classic Is That Onion or a Piece of Wax Paper I Accidentally Forgot to Take Out?

So then I threw in a bunch of oil, two eggs, and a quarterish cup of matzoh meal.  My aunt adds Gruyere to hers, but we added Feta and it was fine.  And also salt.  You have to add salt.  And hot red pepper flakes.  Keeps 'em guessing!

I mixed it all and threw it in the oven.  It's supposed to be on 375 for an hour, but my baking dish was kinda deep so it ended up being like 375 for 45 minutes and then 285 for another 40.

I'm sure Moses would cry, but topped with Sriracha, the shit was delicious.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

OMG Everyone is insane and wears matching panty sets

Thanks to the diligent shoppers over at Sociological Images, I offer you the following "sexualization of girls through advertising history."


Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

Colors should be kept soft and feminine

Lately at work, I've been researching best practices for workforce development, or basically what social service providers are doing to help people get jobs.

The following is advice that one employment agency gives to its female clients:

We have all heard the phrase, "Dress for success."  In the corporate world, looking the part is essential in either landing the job of your dreams or getting promoted at your current place of employment. Although we should never judge a book by its cover, a professional appearance plays a huge role on how your employer perceives you.  Although corporate attire differs for women and men, there are four key components to keep in mind when getting dressed for work while still projecting a professional image:  style, color, length and fit. 

Pant suits and skirt suits should be a staple in every woman’s wardrobe. Your pants should be tailored and fitted, but not so tight as to show a panty-line.  Skirts should be no more than one inch above your knees, and should be loose enough so that you are not uncomfortable when you sit.  Suit jackets can be worn open, but should be able to button. Some basic suit colors are navy and grey.   Black suits are always chic and you can add hints up color to liven them up, and give them personality. Colors should be kept soft and feminine. Light blues, soft pinks and lilacs are ideal. Button down shirts are classic, but wearing one with ruffles adds instant femininity to a strong suit. (Make sure there are no gaps between the button holes!) You can even swap a suit jacket for a cardigan. Pair it with a pencil skirt, and cinch it at the waist with a thin belt for a more fashionable look. Pantyhose must be worn, and can be a neutral tone or black with a little sheen. Make sure they are run free!

Accessories are a fool proof way to personalize any outfit. In a corporate environment you want to keep it clean and simple. Cool studded earrings or small hoops paired with a single bracelet, is effortless and tasteful; or a string of pearls balanced with an elegant watch is also a timeless combination. Adding a belt to your look adds instant style effortlessly. Shoes should be closed toe with a moderate heel, (one to two inches is best) classy, and good quality leather. Droopy handbags look shabby and sloppy. For the office, opt for a sleek briefcase, and match it up with a leather day clutch or a purse with a strap big enough to only hold your necessities. Just like with your shoes, your purse is an accessory you can play with and experiment different textures.

Also imperative to your corporate wardrobe is your personal hygiene!  Hair should be neatly styled, nails should be manicured, and you should have a clean, fresh scent to you.  Body odor is a no-no.  Perfumes and colognes should be applied as a single sprits [sic].

Despite my tendency towards the scruffy chic (I put the "casual" in "business casual"), I suppose I can probably attribute all my success in life to wearing feminine colors and cool studded earrings. It is probably important to tie my professional success to a great cardigan and my ability to walk in moderate heels.  Thoughts, ladies?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The internet has a mandate to embrace my cooking skills, or at least let me talk about them

One of the most irritating of the democratizing aspects of the internet is the abounding and unapologetic celebration of mediocrity.  Typos, half-baked business models, self-serving antagonisms in comment sections - - all of this flourishes in the blogosphere, a forum that lends expert status to Joe Schmo and consequently delegitimizes even the most informed analytic source.

From this circus has come a spate of food-related content, all of which irrationally pisses me off.  (Except for the time my article on bagels was the second-most read article on for like four months...huzzah for me and bagels!)

It's not that I don't care about food - I think actually it plays a much too important role in my emotional life - but that I frankly do not give a shit about what other people are cooking, where they are eating, and especially what they think about all these experiences.

I am glad for the successes of amateur cooks who derive satisfaction from their adventures in home kitchen culinary arts, yet I think it is beyond annoying that an entire literary culture surrounds such banal achievement.  We in the Western oppressor class are in the age of convenience; the fact that we even know how to nourish ourselves is treated as a source of delight and self-congratulation.

Don't get me wrong - I am all for the recording of popular culture.  I find recipe websites helpful.  But I sympathize most strongly with the schmucks who can't for all the EVOO in the world get pasta with marinara sauce right.  Why don't these people have a website?

That is to say, I am not a horrible cook, but who needs to hear about it on the internet?

Well, dear readers, now YOU get to.

In direct response to my online foodie competition, I am starting a new series called "Food I've Cooked that Looks Terrible and Might Taste That Way Too."  This way, you too can enjoy my travails in the kitchen without feeling like an asshole who doesn't know the difference between kumquats and kielbasa.  It helps that I'm vegetarian, so the options are more limited.  I hope this new feature will help assuage the media hysteria surrounding food production and consumption, and return online discourse to the culturally relevant charms of pornography and kitten-shaped emoticons.

For starters, I have been bothering my roommates all week to make hamantaschen, or fruit-filled triangle cookies, with me this weekend for Purim, which, for those of you who haven't spent your formative years in the Tri-State Area, is Jewish Halloween.  It's a celebration of the fact that Jews still exist despite the best efforts of Haman (Boo!), who, along with trying to kill us all (which is why we boo his name), sported a triangular hat à la Paul Revere.  For Purim, we make cookies in the shape of Haman's (Boo!) headgear.  I found a recipe from a Jewish pre-school teacher who assures her readership that no matter how much kids play with the dough, the finished product will be "perfect."

Now, a natural skeptic such as myself might normally have been suspicious of such claims.  But my enthusiasm for the holiday got in the way of my rationality, and behold the finished product:

If it seems to you that a pre-schooler with an anger management problem made these cookies, you are not far from the truth.  You might also note that they are not triangle-shaped, which is the point of the cookies.  To this I say, whatever.  Go buy your own damn hamantaschen.  ¡Chag Purim!

People say baking is therapeutic, what with the dough pounding and sugar rush.  But I took Psych 101, and these cookies still taste like dry scones with sticky jelly.  If I didn't live with a boy, they might be sitting on the kitchen counter for weeks.

And with that, I encourage you to look forward to the next installment of this series, "Arielle Goes to the Hong Kong Market and Makes the Nice Vietnamese Lady Cry."

PS:  I will strive to take the least flattering photos of my cooked products, lest anyone mistake this feature for actual food porn.  I have also heard that inclusion of the word "porn" on blog posts maximizes your search engine optimization value, so let's go with that.  Porn porn porn.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A very serious crime against humanity was not reported on the NOPD 5th District Crime Map

I'm not even joking: the incident of aggravated throwing of macaroni and cheese on my car is not documented on the official police roundup of neighborhood crime, despite my best and most protracted efforts at reporting it.

As my mother said, "What is this country coming to?"

I would ask my friendly 5th District police bureau, but unfortunately I think I am permanently on Officer Addison's shitlist at this point.  She responded to a call from my address last night around 9:30pm, only to find me and my ragamuffin friends eating couscous and drinking gin on the front porch.  Some might call this undesirable street hooliganry; I call it "neighborhood watch."

When I explained the situation - that I suspected my neighbor had smeared macaroni and cheese all over my car - I really thought the officer was going to slap me.  And I couldn't have blamed her.

I retold the history of harassment, explaining that we knew that if we didn't catch our neighbor in the act, the police couldn't really do anything.  Eventually I got my police report (it has the wrong street name on it, but hey, nobody's perfect), with a number for follow-up inquiries.

But I'm getting competing advice from one of our other (black) neighbors, who instructed us to pay a "big black thug" fifty dollars to go over and threaten the problem neighbor.  After all, she said, "there's not much you can't accomplish if you give fifty dollars to a black man."  Amen?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Someone threw macaroni and cheese all over my car and I'm not sure what this reveals about America

And I called the police about it. Seriously, who would waste perfectly good macaroni and cheese like that?

Actually, because we've been having problems with our neighbor that go well beyond the mere grumpy - multiple tire slashings on my roommate's car, motor oil poured all over our front porch, a shut-off of our water supply - I called the cops to document this latest incident of harassment, after confirming with the neighbor's home healthcare aid that she cooked macaroni and cheese last night for dinner.

As much as I hate to call the police to settle community disputes, if anything should happen to this car or our house, the insurance companies will be on it like a bonnet.  And nothing sates insurance companies' quest for justice like a well-researched police report.  I know this from getting rear-ended by a mail truck back in 2004. (What is it with me and public employees?)

They of course didn't answer the phone for five minutes, during which time I saw a cop driving THE WRONG WAY down our one-way street, and despite my best efforts to flag him down, he did not stop.  (I've been having a problem lately with getting cops to stop their cars for me.)

When I finally talked to the lady, she told me to call dispatch and hung up.  I had to go to work, so, dear Shtetl Denizens, expect to be on the update as soon as this worker bee gets to leave for the evening.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My first run-in with the NOPD: It went well, considering

I was biking home last night on St. Claude, a main thoroughfare in my neighborhood, when I almost got run over by a cop.  I was waiting at the corner of Elysian Fields for a green light, and despite my reflective helmet, backlight, and pedal reflectors, a driver - with no signal flashing, it should be noted - decided to turn right into my path once the light changed.

I yelled "Hey! Hey!" until the driver noticed me, but she didn't slow down.  I was halfway through the lane trying to figure out my path of escape when I saw that she was wearing a police uniform.

"You're a cop?!?" I asked, incredulous.

"I'ma write you a ticket, bitch!" she replied.

Confused and scared, I pedaled furiously and got away unscathed, if just a little rattled.  The cop hopefully didn't attempt any more vehicular homicide that night.

Well there you have it - just a step in the long march towards traffic court justice.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Glee" is reactionary and anti-feminist and also not entertaining

I got suckered into watching Glee on Super Bowl Sunday, and my initial groaning turned out to be wholly justified.

Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against fiercely competitive singing teenagers.  I was a happy participant in my school's Glee Club for years, even mentoring younger members.  Fortunately for my coincidental career as varsity volleyball captain, my high school wasn't as divided along the jock-nerd dichotomy as "McKinley High" (named after my old frenemy William, who condemned Spain's atrocities against Cuba only to "annex" it later, along with Guam, Hawaii, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico - a Little Giants reference, mayhaps?).

No, my issue with Glee stems not from its weak laugh lines or hyper-saccharine locker room pep talks, but from its problematic themes on gender and the body politic.

For those of you as out of the loop as I was two weeks ago, the show combines serviceable covers of Top 40 hits with predictable high school sitcom plotlines.  What is most offensive - aside from the  show tunes - is how righteous the characters can be on matters of identity politics ("There's no way I'm sharing the choir room with a known homophobe," one incensed Glee Clubber pouts) yet still unapologetically solicit sympathy and humor from active subscription to the gender binary.

Firstly, the actors are supposed to be portraying high school students, but they are tiresomely sexualized.  There is truly little that is teenage about their breasts, vocal ranges, and confidence.  Note to Hollywood: Putting an actor in striped arm warmers does not make her a high schooler.  She's still 24.  I'm 24, and trust me: high school was a long time ago.

In any event, the show made me mad for a few reasons.  Starting with the use of female bodies as sites of sexist projection, Glee falsely claims the high road on liberal compassion and instead reinforces a damaging status quo:

  • When the Glee Club girls play on the football team as stand-ins, only the boxy, hard-featured girl is actually good at the sport.  The other girls literally lie down on the field when it's time to play.
  • Despite the fact that the girls played the first half of the game because the boys were too engaged in a petty argument to even take the field, once the boys decided they wanted to get back in the game, the girls all had to leave the field.  This only reinforces females in their support role to male vitality and success.
  • One of the episode's biggest ongoing laugh lines concerned the cheerleading coach, who, presumably menopausal, forces her athletes to slap each other and stuff chicken cutlets down their bras in order to revive her own mojo.  [In an egregious yet entirely unsurprising subplot detailing the coach's pursuit of life thrills, an inept tattoo artist is coded as Latino.] Her coaching career is derailed, however, and she launches into a violent temper tantrum when told she cannot endanger the lives of her squad members by propelling them out of a cannon across the football field.  Lesson learned: Her maternal instinct must be reinstated.  Otherwise she is ridiculous, out of hand, even dangerous.
  • In the end of the episode (spoiler alert!), the cheerleaders abandon their quest for state championship in favor of boosting at the sidelines of the big football game.  Here, cheerleaders are not athletes and cannot claim power through self-determined physicality.  They are again relegated, literally, to the sidelines in favor of demonstrations of masculine prowess and dominance.  The lesson from this is that women are worthwhile only in their ability to support their men.
  • Fittingly, the football coach is an ambiguously gendered individual known as "Beast."  Her presence reinforces the idea that women can have knowledge and skills related to athleticism only if they are masculine in appearance and demeanor.

So in the end, Glee was just as annoying as I thought it would be, only more offensively so.  My parents didn't let us watch TV for the longest time, and now I know why: If I want to be hit on the head by patriarchal conceptions of femininity and race, I can just go outside.