I’m Still Alive

Reasons I’ve been MIA:

  • Hurricane Sandy caused the pipes in our building to explode, the heat to fail, our ceiling to collapse – in a nutshell I had to move to a new apartment. To give you non-New Yorkers some context, moving apartments here is the difficulty-equivalent to building Rome in a day while writing a Nabokovian novel while juggling purple elephants.
  • I started a new job! At a great company! It’s great! But it means sacrificing certain things while adjusting, such as babbling in a blog at 2am.
  • “Game of Thrones” returned. Naturally this means I had to re-watch every season before the premier. To do so involved retreating to my cave of a room, leaving society, throwing my fist in the air and yelling “Joffrey!” while covered in peanut butter, etc.

But I am alive, and have been busy. Feel free to check out some of my womany feministy human rightsy writings on PolicyMic:

Is Fast Food a Feminist Issue?

“This is Personal” Campaign Fights For Reproductive Rights Online

Hollaback! to Create An App to End Street Harassment


Cultural Superiority and Issues of Rape

I’ve been following the story unfold in India regarding the Delhi gang rape. The more I read, the more I am appalled.

But for now I don’t want to talk about the specificities of the case. What I want to discuss is how these incidents are appearing in American media. In an incident that appears to be so black and white, so good vs. evil, we as a Western culture have taken liberties in criticizing Indian culture without taking it one step further, in reflecting on the rape culture here at home. Of course, we should criticize this incident. We should be upset. But we should not presume a kind of colonial superiority, however unintentional this presumption may be. In fact, the “unintentional” is what frightens me most about this kind of editorial coverage.

A lot of people I know have difficulty seeing rape culture in our society. They don’t deny that there are faults within the system, but they also cannot identify how it affects their daily life and the life of those around them. I believe the men in my life who say they do not understand the purpose of a feminist movement anymore. These are not misogynists or idiots; they are friends and people I love. These are people whose opinions matter to me. But what I also believe is that if they understood the insidious ways gender inequality and social constructions have been established in American society, that they would no longer passively support them. I believe these issues would not be viewed with such cultural opacity the way it is often done now. I believe they would call themselves feminists.

Rape and sexual oppression are not issues that were ordained by God. If we are willing to label other cultures’ gender relations as morally wrong and separate from our own, than a country’s gender relations are not inherent. And that means the way we do things at home, as well as abroad, can be changed. Gender inequality has fallen under the umbrella of “culture”, a big, foggy word that often shifts our perception to one of concepts instead of something tangible to be dealt with proactively. But as any historian would tell you, it is possible for immense and drastic change among gender policies and cultural attitudes. This should make us hopeful. While we scrutinize Indian culture and advocate for positive changes abroad, we should take the opportunity to implement the same strategy here while these issues are in the national dialogue, and criticize.

Here are some things I’ve been reading:

Experiencing Sandy in Upper and Lower Manhattan: Two Perspectives of Crisis

It’s odd when you find yourself living through a historical moment. Being in New York and experiencing Hurricane Sandy this past week, I felt deeply aware of a consciousness foreshadowed — of knowing this was a “where were you the day of?“ moment, knowing this was happening., this was important. It added an undercurrent of anxious tugging, as there was a very human need to make holistic sense of what was happening. There was a need to get your head wrapped around the thing before the thing had even passed. And that was silly. The overly-cognizant, almost lofty analytical element to it. Philosophies and the future tense are a luxury when you’re watching homes in Staten Island being swallowed up into the ocean. It’s like an animal alert in the thick of a ticker tape parade.

I spent Sandy partially in Upper Manhattan and partially in Lower Manhattan. Because of these two different experiences, during the storm and week that followed, I felt that all of my feelings were important to note, all of the news was important, all of my observations were vital for recording — and at the same time everything was overwrought and ridiculous. I could not see one more newscaster in rain boots at the scene, on the job, we’ve got you covered!, news at 1, new on-the-dot, our reporter’s dared to walk further underwater than the other channel’s reporter, every minute you’ve got power we’re on you’re power. If you were uptown, your head was reeling from this media influx. And of course, if you were downtown, you were at the central nerve of it all.

We return to our humanness very quickly in times of crisis. Once you and the people you love are safe, the rest is just stuff or an inconvenience. And then you turn to those who were not as fortunate as you were, and do your best to help.

I live in the East Village, far enough east to be Alphabet City, decidedly in Zone A. I was lucky enough to spend the worst of Sandy on the Upper East Side, with family, power, and even a working gym in the building. But I came back to my apartment as soon as I was able to get to it, through a very, very long bus ride downtown. I came back to get more clothing, to throw out the contents of our fridge, and really, to see the state of my apartment and my neighborhood.  I made arrangements with a friend who had a car to pick me up around 10pm that night, essentially rescuing the East Village vagabond I had just become. I quickly found out that our building reeked of sewage and that we had not left any flashlights behind. My only option was to head outside until 10. That was how I came to spend several hours on the streets of the East Village, before returning to power once again.

I want to write at some point more about my specific experiences in my neighborhood.  But that is for another time. For now I want to give a rounder summation of the whole as best as I can.

What I took from my experience of upper and lower Manhattan, of power and powerlessness (literally and figuratively), was a crisis that cast two distinctly human perspectives. People with power knew so much about the storm, they’d learned the basic science behind northeasterly wind patterns and surges, they’d considered if our society was too dependent on technology, they’d talked about Romney and Obama, they’d read all about the problems with the subway lines and when they could possibly be running again. That was my experience. But when I got off the bus at 14th Street, everything was closed and everything was dead. Downtown Manhattan had no clue what was going on. They had no idea about the subway system, they just wanted to take a shower or make one phone call or find water.

In Upper Manhattan, we considered the macro perspective of a storm and its outcomes, while Downtown Manhattan dealt with the intensely personal micro level concerns. Downtowners cared about their makeshift sidewalk communities, what they could do just to stay warm for the day, just to charge a phone, or if anyone nearby wanted to make some conversation to pass the time. It felt very strange to me, having spent a few hours in this situation with my neighbors, to then leave and adapt instantly to life again with electricity. When I was picked up from the East Village and arrived at my friend’s apartment, we cooked dinner, listened to music, and even had time to carve a pumpkin for Halloween. The feeling was something like awe. How quickly we can adapt to our comforts! And it was something like guilt, for why do some have such comforts in life when others do not. Experiencing Sandy for a day in Upper Manhattan and a day in Lower Manhattan was such a stark contrast. I am still trying to reconcile the two experiences in a way that becomes understandable to me.

I do not want to make some grand statement about income disparity or class. And I certainly do not want to imply that a macro or micro perspective should be pitted against one other in some moralistic scale of better or worse. What I want to iterate is that in my individual experience with this storm, what stood out to me was the empathy and outpouring of help. And the experiences of Upper and Lower Manhattan, while different, were something that united everyone.

And that’s the thing about New York. We have a reputation as a rough place, with vast economic disparities and a melting pot of ethnicities. And yet, everyone in this nutjob city manages to come together somehow. New York has singularly faced some of our greatest national tragedies. And when you take a city with a history of such violence and a reputation for such crudeness, it is amazing to see what happens here when societal sugars are boiled away and you are left with people and their souls. I’ll never forget the group of homeless men and women on Avenue C who pulled out two grills, set up a lopsided table, and offered a free hot meal to a crowd of hipsters, businessmen, the elderly, and children. I saw strangers paying for strangers in Evelyn’s bar, which had just finished pumping out water from its basement and opened its doors to a neighborhood with nowhere else to go. I saw strangers asking what could be done for strangers, when they themselves had nothing to give.

And I also know that those who had something to give, did give. Those with power were glued to the TV’s, were anxious to help those in trouble, to donate their time or their money. And may I add, we’d be a very rich city right now if money was measured in couch surfing offers.

What I’m trying to say, however clumsily, is that what I saw this week was something important. What I saw this week was human nature glowing its best glow. Maybe it sounds cheesy, but I don’t know what else you call it.

I am always humbled by the way words are so inadequate when trying to tackle the most important soul-stuff we’re all always trying to get at. It’s hard for me to be a Shakespeare about it, or even a Bukowski, when I just want to say that I had this experience, and it moved me, and I wanted to get it out in some way and share it. These seem like some of the most important things we can share with each other. Because what I experienced was the best of people. What I felt was real human connectedness.

In terms of the Big Apple, now. It’s always seemed to me that once you step foot in New York, you are instantly a New Yorker. I don’t think that’s true of every city. Throughout Sandy, I felt like we all knew we were truly New Yorkers, together. And even though the common pulse was thrust upon us, it was still the same pulse.

The Eat Village

There are major perks to living in the East Village for a young person. Namely, it’s filled with other young people, and this means a perpetual influx of new bars and restaurants. Yet unlike some other trendy Manhattan neighborhoods, the East Village retains traces of the seediness of NYC yore. This is what many outsiders imagine to be “the real New York” (for some reason, “the real New York” people tend to nostalgically lament is linked to bombed out architecture, drug fiends, and a general feeling that terror is about to befall you just around the corner). I realize how special it is that the neighborhood has recently boomed with foodstuffs, and yet it has somehow miraculously retained its vibe. Now that I’ve been here over a year, I’ve discovered some seriously drool-worthy spots worth sharing. Because as we all know, the best tours are ones done through taste buds.

Back Forty

If you want pork jowl nuggets and want to know where the pork jowl nuggets came from, this is the place for you. Their menu is seasonal, and that can be hit or miss in my experience (never again, experimental cheese platter). But the dishes are always innovative, and when they’re good, they’re great. This summer they featured a cucumber gazpacho, and I found myself craving it in a way that’s usually only reserved for ice cream or peanut butter. If you want to be safe, stick to ordering the menu staples, like the herb crusted Amish chicken or the grass-fed burger, and you will leave more than satiated. Particularly if you get a side of yucca fries. And in case you’re as cluelessly urban as me, “back forty” refers to the back forty acres of land on a farm, which explains the rakes and tools hanging from the walls. Oh, and there is a lot of beer if you’re into that, too.

Northern Spy is similar to Back Forty in that you don’t have to worry about your food being poisoned by toxic pesticides. If you want to be that person you can ask the waiter where your eggs came from and they can tell you when the truck arrived and from which local farm. But you can taste how fresh the food is here. I’m partial to their brunches, as the eggs are done to perfection, I’ve never had better polenta (I don’t even know if I’d tried polenta before this), and their corned beef is everything corned beef should be (awesome).This place has something for everyone: the kale salad with cheddar, almonds, pecorino and baked eggs ould satisfy even the staunchest of the anti-kale crowd. And if greens aren’t your thing, duck fat fries savants are most welcome here. Like most New York restaurants, if you go at a busy time, you may end up eating on top of you neighbors. But the picnicky, friendly decor sort of makes that okay. Also they have this awesome green vintage tree wallpaper, and the fact that I noticed wallpaper means something.

It’s like Murray’s Cheese Shop, but 1/8 the size and not swarming with tourists. Maybe that’s because it’s on Avenue C, which is still a largely overlooked resource in the East Village. (Resource=food, drink.) Barnyard specializes in artisanal meats and cheeses, and has a nice little display of pre-packaged fresh foods. But I go here for the sandwiches, which are made on the spot with love and care and piles of cured deli meats.

So although you may run into an overfed rat or 17 in Thompkins Square Park, the East Village has a lot to offer at least culinarily speaking. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but that will get you started if you’re looking for local deliciousness of the American cuisine variety. Please note there are also things like breakfast, lunch, dessert, and maybe even a bar or two in the East Village that did not appear here. But presenting just a little taste at a time seems much more digestible.

Stanford study hints at “Organic Shmorganic”, splits eaters in two

A recent Stanford University study found that there were no real nutritional benefits to organic produce over their non-organic (and cheaper!) counterparts. The study also deemed that the amounts of pesticides in non-organic foods are almost always used in safe levels, and essentially negligible from a health standpoint.

Learn about food, population growth, and upper middle class back-to-nature romanticism. Then, don’t eat organic.

Also, be sure to learn about the details of the study and its misleading conclusions surrounding pesticides. Then, eat organic.

Confused? Me too. Thus, I prefer a schizophrenic hybrid of the two when I grocery shop. My own research has led me to believe that certain produce (mainly berries) contain the most dangerous levels of pesticides, whereas fruits with thicker skins tend to be okay for non-organic purchases. When I say thicker skins, I mean your rough-and-tumble pineapples, bananas, oranges, and peels with a degree of durability. I am stingy about organic breads, cereals, and soups because that enters a realm of more convoluted nutritional advice, as opposed to what I was just discussing, which was about the whole poisonous toxins entering your system thing. When one is on a budget, poison takes precedence, and 25-grain bread from the farm up the road becomes luxury. Of course, as the NY Times article above points out, the organic debate is one heavily steeped in economic class systems (even on a budget and my latest terror-inducing bank statement, my concern with pesticide poisoning is an admitted luxury). Organic food simply cannot be discussed without the mention of the larger inequalities of class, nutritional education, and disparate health needs among populations.

I shall pull a Bukowski now, and say that the way to end a post like this is to become suddenly quiet. Look to the distance, insert a meme.*

*The meme bit is mine, as Bukowski sadly did not survive to see memes infiltrate society.

Don’t Blame It on the Sunshine (blame it on the boogie and/or social constructions)

As I am both a product of gender studies courses and a lover of danceable 80’s beats, I felt compelled to comment on Michael Jackson’s cultural impact, as last week would have been the King of Pop’s birthday.

Here is my article, submitted to the Feministing website. And if your eyes haven’t been e-bludgeoned to e-death with Todd Akin internet commentary, you should also check out my article on that whole fiasco, entitled “Why We Can’t Write Off Todd ‘Misspoke’ Akin as a Lunatic Exception”.

Hope everyone is enjoying September! In fact, September really means “seven”, even though it is the 9th month of the year. Why, you ask? It’s because we converted stuff weirdly from the Roman calendar, but dug the lingo too much to change it. And that is a charming tidbit of history from you to me, in my own colloquial tongue. (As you can see, I am not a product of history courses.)

I’m Still Alive

Despite the fact that this blog has, as of late, been a desolate corner within the humble world of digital infrastructure, I am pleased to announce that I am still alive.  As the Happy Wok delivery man can attest to, I have been more than active these past few months, and thus have not properly groomed this site the way I should have (more than active = sedentary, ordering Chinese delivery).  But important things actually have happened in my life.  For example, I started a new job.  And I really should be counting my lucky stars at this juncture because it is a job that I actually really enjoy, which I am told is as rare as watching an episode of “Game of Thrones” without this line: “I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the blood of old Valyria!” Indeed, I should count my lucky stars.  But I won’t, since I live in Manhattan and seeing a star here is as rare as watching an episode of “Game of Thrones” without this line: “I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the blood of old Valyria!”

Another important occurrence is that I’ve discovered my teeth are definitely shifting around my gums/jaw/skull.  At this point it is not noticeable, but I keep having horrible flashbacks to the acting extras from the movie “Wild Wild West” whose sole purpose in the film was to terrify children when they flashed they’re rotten miles.  I mean literally rotten smiles because no one knew anything about dentistry in the Wild West, and also most people just don’t naturally have a smile as charming as Will Smith’s.  I’d like to just throw it out there that if you saw “Wild Wild West”, I’m really genuinely sorry, even though I had nothing to do with that movie being brought forth unto this planet. But back to the point: my retainer hasn’t fit into my mouth since I was 16, but I am telling my parents that it is a recent, inexplicable phenomena.  This is an important lie because it makes my parents think I’m not a horrible person.  I don’t want to think about how much money they spent on braces.  Instead I’d like to think about how much money I can potentially beg and plead for under false pretenses (confirmed answer: they are giving me none).

One final thing I’ll leave with you is that I have a perpetual build up of clothes that need to be washed. I do laundry, I fold my clothes, I put them away.  But then I wear my clothes and I have to do the whole process over again.  You’d think by now humans would have progressed beyond this menial and completely inefficient system of laundering. I just wish we could go back to the good old days, where people wore one loincloth until death and then that tattered shred was passed on as a hand-me-down to the runt of the family litter. If I had to guess, I’d bet entire clans could subsist on about 3 loincloths for at least a few hundred years.  They say technology is a positive force that propels society forward, but I think you see my completely oppositional point.  Also, I think forcing everyone to wear loincloths against their will would offset peer pressure to buy “cool” clothes at school, which has always been a major concern of mine, and is also loosely tied to every practice ACT exam question, “Should schools enforce a uniform dress code? Why or Why not?” The answer is yes for the reasons I explained above. As far as I can tell, if we’d simply regress to loincloths, we’d be but a mere hop away to world peace, the reinvigoration of the housing market, a stabilized economy, and getting “Dance Moms” renewed for another season – aka, utopia.

Feminism is for Everyone

‎”Males as a group have and do benefit the most from patriarchy, from the assumption that they are superior to females and should rule over us. But those benefits have come with a price. In return for all the goodies men receive from patriarchy, they are required to dominate women, to exploit and oppress us, using violence if they must to keep patriarchy intact. Most men find it difficult to be patriarchs. Most men are disturbed by hatred and fear of women, by male violence against women, even the men who perpetuate this violence. But they fear letting go of the benefits. They are not certain what will happen to the world they know most intimately if patriarchy changes. So they find it easier to passively support male domination even when they know in their minds and hearts that it is wrong. Again and again men tell me they have no idea what it is feminists want. I believe them. I believe in their capacity to change and grow. And I believe that if they knew more about feminism they would no longer fear it, for they would find in feminist movement the hope of their own release from the bondage of patriarchy.”

Get your free copy of “Feminism is for Everybody” by bell hooks, a leading scholar in sexuality and gender studies, class, and race relations.  This work in particular is a good introduction to feminist literature in its concision and clarity.  And who doesn’t like free literature?

The Protest of Antipiracy Bills

As most of you know, today marks the web-wide protest of two pieces of legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act  (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).  This article in Forbes does a good job of fleshing out what these bills entail.  Ironically, my first technological instinct for obtaining a good outline of the bills designated my typing “wikipedia” in my browser (which is currently engaged in a 24-hour shutdown of their English-language site).

While the aims of the bill are generally applauded even by proponents, the unintential outcome of this legislation is what has the tech industry worried.  SOPA and PIPA are designed to make it difficult for websites to dessimnate pirated copyright materials, namely muisc and movies. 

But the consequences for these bills is that this kind of censorship will affect a business’ entire site, not just the pinpointed unlawful activity the legislations are specifically geared towards preventing.  If passed, the fear is that  lawful activity will be hindered and censored, on top of stifling innovation and economic growth within the businesses themselves.

As The New York Times coverage reported earlier today,

“This is the first real test of the political strength of the Web, and regardless of how things go, they are no longer a pushover,” said Professor Wu, who is the author of “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.” He added, “The Web taking a stand against one of the most powerful lobbyers and seeming to get somewhere is definitely a first.”

This is an extremely important moment for the tech industry, as the articel so succinctly opens, “[it is] a political coming of age for a relatively young and disorganized industry that has largely steered clear of lobbying and other political games in Washington. “