Category Archives: Cultural Critique

Talking About A Revolution


I spent much of my adult life certain that being born into an era of domestic assassinations must have affected my worldview. I often wondered why there weren’t studies of my age cohort. Did we grow up cynical and afraid? Did we superimpose targets on the backs of charismatic leaders? Did we think that dissent equaled violence? I assumed that my earliest civics lessons must have left a semi-dark imprint on my consciousness. And like most early assumptions, as time passes, I begin to see that I was wrong. In fact I would go so far as to say I was a complete 180 degrees wrong.

Unbeknownst to me I actually absorbed the other side of the coin all along. My worldview was shockingly optimistic. I grew up during a time and in a place rife with women leaders; Bella, Phyllis, Angela, Golda, Gloria; hallelujah. Ms. Magazine came to my house, that is until my mother felt her Erma Bombeck (with a smattering of Betty Friedan) brand of feminism was being dismissed. I came of age when access to birth control and prevention were an assumed right. For a small child there was nothing radical about Shirley Chisholm running for president. Nothing at all. I proudly wore my “Never Again In An Unratified State” button to school, not needing to explain the reference to the ERA and the DNC. It never occurred to me that I was experiencing a bubble. Just as it never occurred to me that; Joni Mitchell, Carole King. Judy Collins, Phoebe Snow, and Janis Ian should hire stylists, pyrotechnicians, back-up dancers and learn to simulate sodomy on stage. They appeared on stage in all their stupendously talented glory, no more or less spiffed, buffed, and polished than their male counterparts. This was my world as a child and teen. It never occurred to me that women were not equal to men.

In 2016 this worldview seems as grounded and realistic as Willy Wonka’s factory. I am continuously gobsmacked to discover how false my assumptions now are. The only realization more chilling than the severe backlash to feminism is how far reaching bigotry is today. In the 21st century. As children we made fun of Archie Bunker and his views on immigrants, gays, women, and people of color. He was a pitiful anachronism surrounded by an argumentative greek chorus on the side of right. It was his one loud voice versus the evolved masses. Something has dramatically shifted since then hasn’t it? I don’t mean to suggest that the 70s were all fun and games for underrepresented people. However, choose any group and you can find the ephemera of a movement. Migrant workers, “Chicano” and Black Power, Gay Liberation, and of course the ERA were in full force in the 1970s. Movements by definition are hopeful. People gather to make change because they believe they can. That’s a heady concept for adults let alone a 2nd grader.

Is it a handicap to grow up with such rose colored glasses? Does it lend itself to resting on one’s laurels and to missing the warning signs? Are we too tired and distracted to pick up the mantle? Is it no longer our problem? Has life just gotten in the way of our ideals? Is it all just too big, too daunting, too exhausting, too depressing, too deja vu all over again? I know my dabbling in protests, petitions and politics is not enough. But how does one muster the urge to fight after witnessing the erosion of progress? Isn’t that the very definition of insanity? Or is it in fact the very definition of the human experience? Do we keep trying regardless of the odds, regardless of the outcome, because to not try and right the wrongs is simply intolerable. Do we stop finding solace in raging with like minded people, and instead rage for change? When this whole world keeps getting you down it’s time to roll up your sleeves, slap on those protest pins and take to the streets, community organizations, polls, and elected office. It is not enough to tweet, Like, or blog. If it were, everything would be better by now. Today’s children are growing up with their own version of domestic assassinations, that on a personal level are far more terrifying than what my peers and I experienced. Is it not our responsibility to show them the other side of the coin? We have been there before; small people witnessing atrocities, we know the way out. We have been shown how to muster our outrage and hurt and create something liberating and good. We know that out of loss and pain can be growth and freedom. There’s no quick fix, but I suspect that if we can focus less on generalizations and surreal presidential campaigns, and more on specific issues, we will get somewhere. If we can focus on one or two issues and give them the kind of attention and passion they deserve, we might just start to move things. The thing about a movement is that once it starts it can really get going. But it’s got to start, it’s simple physics. So the next time a like minded friend engages me in conversation about the woes of the world, my response will be; “let’s do something about it.”


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Posted by on June 15, 2016 in Cultural Critique


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Top 5 Dating Tips (aka How To Avoid Losers)


Dating, like dealing with customer service, using the remote, and getting on a plane, was easier in my 20s. I’d meet a guy; in a bar, at work, in a dorm or in a cockpit (true story) and zing zang zoom, we’d be dating. There wasn’t much at stake and there was little baggage accumulated. Everyone was pretty much in the “same place” developmentally and it was all pretty much harmless fun. Yes things got real and often fraught, and sometimes ended in his and her tears. But the sheer volume of single people in their 20s meant a helluva big drawing board to which to return. As long as someone was unmarried there was very little that was suspect in a potential date. Not employed to his full potential? Well who is in their 20s? Living with roommates and/or in a hovel? Hey, these are early days. Unless one wrestled with mental stability, there really was nothing to hide from a potential date. Fast forward to your 40s and beyond and it’s quite a different tableau. Internet dating and messy lives have nudged us towards self-marketing that borders on deceit. We put our best face forward. Sometimes it’s a vaseline on the lens version of ourselves (a la Cybill Shepherd in every close-up of Moonlighting; by the way if you get that reference, this article is for you!). We leave out the less attractive aspects of our biographies, or we simply choose to forget. The dating pool gets significantly smaller as we age, unless you’re a dude over 75 & then yowza the world is your oyster once more. But for everyone else the pickings get slimmer, as so many former singles are happily (or not so happily) Noah’s Arking their way through life. And unlike in our 20s, we are not all equal now. It’s true and there’s no point in grousing over it; older men like younger women. So it is written, so it will always be. (If it helps, employ the serenity prayer from time to time.) This fact slenderizes the options even further. It is tempting then to overlook certain quirks or niggling details or even that little voice in your head screaming; “RUN!!!!” The more we’re attracted or intrigued, the more muffled that poor exhausted voice becomes, until it’s just as small & muted as Dustin Hoffman pounding on the church glass (Elaine, Elaine.) If you won’t listen to your own little voice, maybe you’ll listen to my big booming bossy one! Resolve dissolves, but commandments do not. So it is written…

1. Help From The IRS

Have you ever noticed that there is no box to check for “separated” on your tax form? That’s because it is legally meaningless. However it does mean many things to many people. Some people see business travel as being “separated”, others consider their separate vacations as a change in marital status. Suffice it to say, there are all kinds of ways to be separated and it’s key to know which version works for you. If the wife has publicly left the marriage (in a juicy embezzlement/infidelity scandal) and is gearing up to be her married boyfriend’s 4th wife, chances are she isn’t coming back (oops, have I said too much?). But separated ain’t divorced, and it’s going to get messier before it gets neater. Caveat Emptor dear reader, caveat emptor.

2. Professions Are Not Accidental

After a certain age, professions are just as much about personality as they are about credentials. It’s kinda like when dogs look like their owners. Do people choose dogs that look familiar or do they begin to take on the characteristics of their dogs over time? Either way, don’t be surprised when the lawyer likes to talk (a lot!), or when the professor is happiest with disciples. If you’re looking for a good conversationalist you might want to avoid dating anesthesiologists. If you’d like to be seen as something more than an audience member on a date you might want to forgo actors. Oh I’m sure there are many many actors capable of very healthy and wonderful relationships and utterly devoid of narcissism. I look forward to meeting one some day. It is more likely that you’ll find yourself listening to the actor’s monologue over dinner, a dinner at which he appeared 15 minutes late without an apology. There’s also a chance you’ll run into him a few weeks later and he’ll have no idea who you are, having never really “seen” you at all.

3. Less Filling, Taste Great

Whether in person or on-line we’ve all become pretty adept at selling ourselves. It can be quite advantageous to all parties to put one’s best foot forward. However, actual misrepresentation will bite everyone in the ass. Any advertiser worth their fee will make sure they understand their product before launching a campaign. I’m not suggesting swami level enlightenment here; just a good long look in the (full-length) mirror. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a few irrelevant details to oneself. Does any date really need to know about the skinny-dipping and wedding crashing of your (I mean, my) past? But it’s best to get the major stuff right out front. Saying you “don’t see well at night” isn’t an accurate representation of stick wielding, sunglass wearing, golden retriever assisted, blind. We’re all differently abled in one way or another. However I’d like to know that I’ll need to help my blind blind date to the door of the restaurant. (I’d have noticed his condition sooner had I not been mesmerized by the calloused grooves in his guitar playing fingertips. So what does that leave, just three senses?)

4. Linkedin = v.2

Have a first date with anyone. Seriously. As long as it’s in a public place and one friend knows where you are and what you’re doing; throw caution to the wind. But before you get serious or sleep with someone, do a bit of research. There’s simply no excuse for not Googling. If your potential bed buddy has no digital footprint be wary. As cold shower as it sounds, check out his/her Linkedin profile. Does it sound similar to what you’ve been told? Does it appear to be written by a 5-year old with one-sentence job descriptions devoid of capitalization or punctuation? You might be about to bed Peter Pan or be arrested. Are there discrepancies with dates and schools? Are there a lot of very brief stints? It’s probably not a game changer but the more you know…

5. Actions Are Deafening

People tell you an awful lot about themselves right off the bat. What they say is important, but it’s their actions that we really should be listening to. If you meet someone at a party, and not once during the hours long conversation do they offer to get you a drink, they’re probably not entirely adept at adult situations. If a date buys you a lovely dinner and then leaves you on the street to hail your own cab in the dark, he probably thinks his wallet can do all his heavy lifting. If a date lets you hail your own cab because he’s too busy figuring out whether or how to kiss you, he’s probably rather limited. If it all sounds confusing and embarrassingly retro and anti-feminist, try thinking of it in a non-sexual way. How do you and your friends treat each other? How do you expect to interact with people when there’s no sexual charge present? Now transfer that to a dating situation. Don’t you want to know a friend got home safely? Do you tell a friend they look fab and/or you had a great time? During a first encounter with a fella I find myself noticing the lack of a drink offer or other borderline boorish behavior and think of a recent incident I had. A married couple, two very tall and imposing gorgeous men, took me to the theatre days after I had broken a toe. They continuously surrounded me The Bodyguard fashion in the crowded, congested, toe crushing theatre. Out on the street, one stayed with me as the other ran two blocks, jumped in a cab and rode it to me. I will always love them.


Posted by on July 30, 2015 in Cultural Critique, Dating


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Candid (Granny) Camera


As leaving small children in the care of others has grown in popularity so has the awareness that not all carers are caring. Depending on one’s social circles, it’s not unusual to hear a weekly childcare horror story. Whether the babysitting arrangement is posh or subsidized seems not to matter. Little ones watched in their own home by uniform clad nannies, babies clustered in a neighbor’s living room, or those in daycare centers are equally vulnerable. This reality is not meant to strike fear. There is a fine line between believing in the boogeyman and having some common sense. Quite simply vulnerable people are often vulnerable.

Many parents have addressed their concerns strategically; using hidden cameras or surprise visits. This might seem hovering to some but it most often is not. A small child by definition does not have sophisticated communication skills. A baby is completely helpless. Caring for small children is not easy and can be incredibly frustrating. When doing so is an actual job there is little emotional attachment to pull the carer through the darkness. This doesn’t excuse mistreatment; it only helps to explain it. It can happen, and every parent everywhere knows this. What we don’t often consider is what can happen to our parents if they too are dependent on care.

Elderly people are just as, if not even more susceptible to mistreatment. Often an adult child is arranging the care from a distance, relying upon agencies or institutions to do the right thing. Nursing homes are staffed with the same extreme variations of competency seen in hospitals. Supervision of aides is no more reliable than in any other business sector. People don’t necessarily go into the low-paying and often messy work of health aide due to some sort of calling. It’s a job. Some people are good at it and some people are not. It can be terribly overwhelming to arrange care for a parent. The mixture of relief and guilt of situating a parent can be all consuming. It often is only when there are signs of mistreatment that the concept even occurs to anyone.

Often, like small children, the parent is not a reliable narrator. The parent might not know that possessions are missing or meals have been missed. A person with memory loss may not be able to recall mistreatment. Some bruises or marks may in fact be the result of a combative parent and not abuse. Add to that muddle the fact that the parent might only receive occasional visits from family members, and how is anyone to know what’s really going on? Granny cams. Installing hidden cameras (on live feed to an adult child’s computer) in a parent’s home will tell most of the story. Having every care facility (including senior daycare) outfitted with surveillance will change things dramatically. Those institutions should post signs everywhere informing employees, residents and visitors that; “You Are Being Watched.” Is it an invasion of privacy? Of course. So is having a bevy of doctors and interns gaze upon one’s privates for the benefit of learning. (It’s interesting which invasions of privacy we notice and which we don’t.) The signage will not only deter some misdeeds it also will set a tone. An institution that puts the safety of its patients above all else will attract employees with a compatible ethos. The surveillance will have to be viewed of course, which is not inexpensive. But surely the diminished lawsuits will help to defray those costs.

It’s tempting to wring our hands and bemoan how things have changed for the worse. But it wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Eldercare has risen in popularity because people live longer. Childcare has risen in popularity partly due to more employment opportunity for women. As things grow they often become less wieldy and need to be formalized. There’s nothing graceful or lovely about spying on people but there’s nothing so terribly genteel about burying our heads in the sand either.

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Posted by on November 19, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being


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Awareness Awareness


There is a walk, run, dance, bracelet, and color to raise awareness for just about any and everything. Diseases, syndromes, and situations have their own ribbons, websites and events. “Awareness” is the word. Though to be excruciatingly precise it’s not the best word to use. There are very few of us who are not “aware” of cancer, domestic violence, suicide, autoimmune diseases, etc. A more apt word would probably be “Attention”. The goal of these public relations campaigns is to draw attention to the subject matter. Often it is the case that where there is attention paid money follows. And that is good.

What all this attention has created of course is a culture of extroversion that might not be reflective of the culture at large. People who perhaps feel inclined to experience their illness, hardship or loss in relative privacy can feel pressured to come out. There is almost a forced gaiety surrounding some illnesses. Female reproductive cancers are assigned a color and a cloak of sisterhood that can feel demanding to an introvert. Of course even forced gaiety is better than the quiet shame of yesteryear. With the pink feather boas comes an abundance of information and support.

It’s not clear if any awareness has an impact on the individual. Do people seek detection and treatment at a significantly higher rate now? Does any of that result in longer healthier lives? I don’t know. When a newsreader has a screening on national television does it change the disease statistics? Certainly when a colonoscopy is broadcast it makes an impact on the national discussion. And that is good. Does being pressured (by producers) to have a mammogram on air change anything? Are there any women who need to be told what a mammogram is? Does anyone still discuss breast cancer in hushed tones? And when that broadcasted mammogram results in a woman’s worst fear, does it help or hurt? (For the record; has there ever been a man being tested for anything on air?) That the newsreader’s life has most likely been prolonged is a wonderful thing. But does it have a significant impact on the people who witness it?

Eradicating shame and fear is always a worthwhile pursuit. There are many diseases, particularly those of the mind, which could use some bracelet wearing awareness. Expanding our understanding of the personal challenges around us increases our humanity. However part of that understanding should be an appreciation that not everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, let alone for their colon. And not everyone wants to wear pink and belong to a disease sorority. Extroversion (or attention/awareness) is no more laudable than introversion. Being ill, or surviving a loved one’s suicide or any other personal horror is just that: personal. In a world of walkathons and editorial confessions, shouting may feel like the only means to support or care. Somewhere between the shame and secrecy of the past and the exhibitionism of the present is a place for everyone.

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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being


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Political Sausage


I admit it; I know very little about how political sausage is made. I actually don’t want to know how things do or don’t get done. Ten years of administrating in higher education is about all my soul can withstand. But the drawback of averting my eyes is I’m often left with so many things that make me go hmmm. The most recent of those hmmms involves the impending changing of the guard in New York City. The mayoral race, which at times seemed more like an energetic walk, spurred little enthusiasm. The two viable candidates are both relatively agreeable chaps (and yes, they were chaps, white Christian chaps.) But neither had the charisma, pedigree or star power to really excite. Of course who beside another billionaire (or perhaps a fourth reinvention of Alec Baldwin) could have captured the imagination of New Yorkers? Even forced reveals about private family issues failed to yield much public excitement. Let’s face it if you’re not a little man with a lot of money or a big man with a lot of media attention (and featured prominently in a reality show about Newark) it’s hard to enliven the crowd.

The election is over and this (predominantly) democratic city elected a democratic mayor. Bill de Blasio ran a campaign based on opposing several Bloomberg initiatives. It’s not clear if any of these talking points will result in actual change. (Somewhere there’s a doctoral thesis about how many campaign promises actually come true.) The most discussed of these initiatives involve: taxation, policing and education. There are concerns, stoked by de Blasio’s opposition that tampering with policies in any and all of these areas is tantamount to buying a one-way ticket to the 1970s. Without a crystal ball or a finely tuned sense of paranoia, it’s hard to say. Before I jump on the bandwagon, or perhaps more aptly; the Datsun B210, I need just a bit of edification. I don’t need to see the whole sausage in the making perhaps just the vienna sausage or maybe a snausage.

While it’s true that de Blasio opposes stop and frisk policing tactics, it’s not clear to me that there aren’t equally successful methods of crime deterrence. Many stop and frisks happen to people who live in less safe neighborhoods. Are there other ways, perhaps involving employment and community centers to deter criminal behavior? Nobody voluntarily wants to pay more taxes (unless you count those who play the lottery) but they do know that there is a deep economic divide in this city. If raising taxes can mean more affordable housing, many would happily grab their checkbook. But does it mean that? Or will higher taxes simply fill budget gaps left by business leaving or not being courted by a business superstar mayor? Funneling more money into the school system is a sentimental favorite; “it’s for the children!” But do increasing teacher’s salaries and/or extending the kindergarten day really improve education? Is that why so many kids graduate high school barely able to read and write? When did teachers’ salaries, which are the same as police officers in NYC, equate to teaching skill, meaningful curriculum and competent administration? Of course teachers (and police officers) should be handsomely rewarded for a job well done. Everyone should. But the notion that what is wrong with our education system can be fixed with higher salaries and longer kindergarten days is baffling. But it’s surely not as simply as that. Somewhere there are serious conversations taking place involving 10-point plans and advisory committees.

It’s very early days and if history is any indication many of these questions will be answered, as we get closer to the inauguration. All we know right now is that things will change and hopefully for the people who need it the most they will change for the better.

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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Education


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