Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Beauty Contest




From the moment girls are born, we are wrapped in little pink blankies and put into little pink outfits. We are encouraged to love Disney princesses, dress up our Barbie dolls, love sparkle and glitter, behave like little ladies, and above all, be pretty, pretty girlies!

The beauty contest begins the moment we appear. For the rest of our lives, we are judged on our appearance, and unless we are considered beautiful by societal standards, we are usually found wanting. The judges in the pageant that is our lives are not at all hesitant to let us know where we fall short of the male ideal of beauty. We are judged too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too shrill, too feminine, too masculine, too much, or not enough.

From the time we start developing breasts, they become the focus of the male gaze. They are stared at, hooted at, and sometimes grabbed by complete strangers. Rather than look us in the eye, strangers speak to those breasts, as if they are unaware that they are attached to actual sentient beings. The older we get, the more intense the beauty contest becomes. The beauty contest includes our voices (don’t be shrill or strident!) our behavior (be ladylike – don’t make waves) and our brains (boys won’t like you if you’re too smart.)

What we look like is everything. That is reinforced daily through advertising and through the comments of men – men we may or may not know. If we are not cheerful chipmunks in every public moment, some guy will come along to tell us “you’d be so much prettier if you smiled.” In fact, throughout our lives, all kinds of people endlessly provide advice on ways to be “so much prettier.” The fun never stops.

If we choose to go into politics, the beauty contest is exacerbated. Men have a distinct advantage, beyond the whole patriarchy/money/power thing. They wear a uniform. Photographers never close in to catch a look at their ankles or their shoes. There are no write-ups on what a male candidate is wearing at an event. Seldom is the appearance of a man ever even remarked upon. There are some exceptions. Chris Christie is remarked upon for being portly, but it is often done in a joking way. Paul Ryan was photographed lifting weights. We were all supposed to be dazzled by his manly muscles. Wes Clark had the sweaters and the Speedo. Then, of course, there is Obama, who has been roundly mocked for wearing “dad” jeans, though how many of us would want our dads wearing anything else? Then there was the big kerfuffle about the tan suit. Because no president has ever worn a tan suit ….er…. except for Harry Truman, Ike, LBJ, and even Saint Ronnie Reagan. Of course it doesn’t matter what Obama wears, it’s always going to be wrong.
It’s a different ballgame for women. We had to hear about Hillary Clinton’s appearance endlessly. Her hair, her clothes, and as she aged, even her ankles. On a Twitter account, there’s a space for a short bio. Hillary’s mentions that she’s a “hair icon” and “pantsuit aficionado.” Sarah Palin was on the other end of the beauty obsession. From the beginning she was advertised to us as the hot GOP chick from Alaska, but the relentless focus on her hair, glasses, shoes, and wardrobe was tiresome. No one took photos of John McCain’s comb over, or his shapely legs. Michelle Obama has been criticized for wearing too many sleeveless dresses, for having muscular arms, for spending too much money on clothes, and for not spending enough; just whom does she think she’s fooling by shopping at Old Navy?

It never ends. For men, though, it never really begins. Scott Brown is the rare candidate whose looks are commented upon. I’ve never read a critique of Walt Havenstein’s suits or hairstyle. No newspaper ever remarks on the fact that Frank Guinta seems to wear a lot of red ties. All of the criticism and commentary is saved for women.

In 2011, an interviewer asked Elizabeth Warren a question about Scott Brown posing nude in Cosmo. She answered, “I kept my clothes on.” Brown heard about this and said, “Thank God.” His contempt for women was on display again over the weekend when he attended a tailgate party at UNH. While drunken fratboys shouted out rapey slurs about our US Senator, Scott Brown said nothing. If he’d turned to them and told them to stop, that’s no way to talk about our US Senator, or ANY woman, I’d be writing a very different piece, one that included the use of the term “respect.” Try as I might, I can’t remember a gang of women bellowing similar comments about any male candidate, anywhere, ever.

The beauty contest came home to NH in another form this weekend. State Representative Steve Vallaincourt of Manchester felt compelled to pen a blog post giving his opinion of Congresswoman Ann Kuster’s appearance. It was puerile and mean spirited, but that doesn’t surprise anyone who knows Steve Vallaincourt. The story hit the international fan hard, which meant the NH media couldn’t ignore it. Now he’s whining about being misunderstood. Some of his staunch male GOP defenders (brothers in misogyny) are blubbering about his First Amendment rights. What these guys never seem to get is that, yes, the First Amendment gives you the right to free speech. It does not give you immunity. If you say stupid stuff, you get to deal with it. I believe they call that taking personal responsibility. Why the women of the GOP continue to tacitly condone this kind of behavior remains a mystery.

That we’re still dealing with this kind of double standard in 2014 is depressing. That we haven’t evolved sufficiently to evaluate our female candidates (and all women) on the basis of their talents, experience, and qualifications is maddening. In 2013 a study done by the group Name It. Change It. found that when a female candidate’s appearance becomes the focus (positive or negative) they lose elections. One could begin to think it’s done intentionally.


They always say the Miss America Pageant isn’t a beauty contest, it’s really a scholarship program. If that’s the case, why don’t we just put all the contestants on "Jeopardy” and pick Miss America that way?“ Jay Leno


Monday, October 06, 2014

Happy Birthday Lucy



Today is Lucy's 5th birthday. Lucy's father had my daughter charged with a heinous crime, and the state of Maine seems intent on railroading my daughter, with ZERO interest in actual investigation or justice. 

That's a story for the days ahead. 

Today on Lucy's 5th birthday, her mother is not allowed to see her or have any contact with her. Today and every day, her heart is breaking. It's unimaginable. 

I can't see Lucy either. 

Lucy's father has refused to let me see her. He even threatened me, via text message, something that Sargent Jared Austin of the Rangeley, Maine police force was completely uninterested in when I called to report the incident. He and my former son-in-law are buddies. No surprise there. Sargent Austin spoke to me in a shockingly unprofessional manner. I wrote a letter of complaint to Chief Dennis Leahy of the Rangeley Police Dept. He has not responded. The inappropriate and unprofessional behavior of one of his officers is apparently of no concern to him.

Today is Lucy's birthday, and I cannot see her. Her father told me that Lucy has no idea who I am. Just before he had Lucy's mother arrested, Lucy and I had a conversation about the hat she had just made for me. "I love you Grammy!" Lucy said to me. I don't believe for a minute that Lucy has forgotten who I am. I do believe that Lucy is living with people who are hurting her physically and emotionally. 

Maine does have so-called grandparent's rights. Unfortunately, those rights are only accessible if one has an attorney. There is no standard form that one can fill out, one has to navigate the process with a lawyer and costly filing fees. I can't afford this. One can hardly call it a "right" if one has to pay a lot of money to have access to it. 

Something is really rotten in the State of Maine. I have no intention of letting that go. 

Today is Lucy's fifth birthday. I love my granddaughter with all of my heart. 


Note: I have no desire to use my family as fodder for my blog. Thing is, my daughter is being railroaded - and I'm not going to let that happen quietly or without a fight.

Friday, October 03, 2014

405 Manchester St.


Mark Hayward's latest story on the continuing saga at 405 Manchester St. appears in today's Union Leader. Some highlights:


Manchester Water Works said Thursday it restored water service to a problem-plagued apartment house at 405 Manchester St., only to discover that someone had stolen copper pipes from the building.
No pipes means no water - and this comes AFTER the tenants had made a downpayment on the water bill. A bill that was not paid by the landlord. Water was included in their rent. Now some of the tenants are buying new pipe and hoping to get the water on today. 
However, the city may close the property sooner. Community Development Commissioner Leon LaFreniere said city lawyers are working with Schaefer’s local attorney to go to court and ask a judge to secure the property.
The City would like this story to go away, as quickly as possible. The City does not want to have a big discussion about deteriorating buildings, the need for new housing codes and more stringent enforcement. 
Paul Schaefer, the disappearing landlord, bought 405 Manchester St. in October 2005. In November 2005, he was issued a Certificate of Compliance. That CoC was revoked on July 20, 2006 because of fire alarm system failure. It was reinstated shortly afterward. That same CoC expired on September 22, 2008. The next CoC was issued on June 2, 2011. It took nearly 3 years for Schaefer to "fix" the 95 violations cited by the housing inspectors.  

The violations included water stained ceilings and water damaged floors in many of the apartments. The ceilings and floors may have been fixed - but nowhere was there any mention of fixing the actual leaks. Leaking pipes in an old wooden building are going to cause ongoing deterioration, as well as providing a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, rodents, and insect infestation. 

It seems there is no real enforced time limit for making the necessary repairs, even though the building isn't supposed to be rented out without a CoC in place. The code enforcement department is woefully understaffed and underfunded. Lowell, MA has 11 housing inspectors. Manchester currently has 4. 

The people living at 405 are living in a terrible situation. The building is a mess. One man's windows blow out if the wind blows too hard. He has to tape them to the frame from the inside. There are a number of broken windows in the building. The place is infested with bedbugs, the mailboxes don't lock, doors don't close properly, and the yard is full of trash. 

Given the precarious legal position these folks are in, and with the City desperate to close this place down, I worry that they may make an investment in the building and still wind up out on the street. 

This is no way for people to be living. Not in the 21st century in the wealthiest country in the world. 


previous coverage:

http://susanthebruce.blogspot.com/2014/09/substandard-housing-in-manchester-nh.html

http://susanthebruce.blogspot.com/2014/09/from-unfit-for-human-habitation-to-safe.html

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Learning from History


One of my friends wrote a book about town meeting a few years back. I contributed some stories and research. I spent a day at the Gorham Historical Society reading old town reports. The earliest town reports were mostly inventories of what the town owned. Shovels, snow rollers, rakes, and other tools. Those terse summaries show how the town began to grow and change.

The town reports also changed over time.  Early reports contained a narrative school report. The town meeting narratives came later. In 1891, advertising was introduced in the town report. In 1895, the town report contained a report from the Board of Health on the topic of sanitation. The school outhouses were decried as “unsightly and unclean.” Gorham’s status as a burgeoning summer resort was also a concern. The Alpine House hotel was lauded as “first class” for emptying their sewerage into the river.

In 1896, the town report included a list from the Library Trustees of the 476 books that were purchased for the new library. The list was updated for several years in subsequent town reports, along with a stern admonition each year that young readers needed to use more care when handling books. In the 1901 report, the library has 1700 books. In 1902 there were new volumes from Darwin, Kant, Hegel, and Adam Smith.

Then, as now, the town reports included births, marriages, and deaths. The causes of death were interesting. In 1897, there were deaths from “exema rubrance", spasms, a gunshot wound, and “general decline.” In 1899, two people were run over by cars. In 1901 a woman died of “natural decline” at age 91. In 1904 the tailor died of a bullet wound.

1903 was the first year there was an official notice of town meeting, and the first year the town report was indexed.

In 1904 the report contained 32 pages from the road agent that included every ditch dug, every man who plowed or shoveled snow, or fixed a bridge. Many more roads required many more man-hours. Twenty men were paid varying amounts for fighting forest fires.

1905 was the first year with a police report. Some 70 people were arrested for “drunk.” In 1908 there were 48 completed water closets in the town.

From counting shovels to water closets, the history of the town unfolds. I’m betting you cringed when you read about the hotel dumping sewage into the river. Polluted rivers were taken for granted when I was growing up. We moved to Groveland, MA when I was 10, and the nearby Merrimack River reeked in the summertime. The shoe factories along the river in Haverhill emptied their sewage right into the river. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire in 1968. The environmental movement began. We stopped throwing trash out of our car windows. We stopped dumping stuff into rivers. We learned.

Human history is comprised of lessons learned, followed by vigilance, followed by the erosion of vigilance started by people who know we can do it better this time, followed by either the same problem or a variation of it. Rinse, lather, and repeat.

Reaganomics, supply side, trickle down, laissez faire – whatever we want to call the response to Keynesian economics has been a failure since it was imposed during the Reagan administration. We’re encouraged to believe that all of that wealth concentrating at the top will eventually trickle down to the peons at the bottom. This type of economic policy has been failing us for 30 years, with no end in sight. Meanwhile our infrastructure crumbles, and taxpayers pick up the tab for food stamps for the “job creators” at the top who refuse to pay their employees a living wage. This lesson remains unlearned.

THE PLEDGE seems to have begun on the fringes of NH politics in the 1950’s. In the seventies, under the stewardship of Governor Meldrim Thomson and Union Leader editor William Loeb, THE PLEDGE went mainstream. For over 40 years now, some of our elected officials pledge every two years that they promise that they will not support a state income tax or a sales tax. The Pledge is now seen as inevitable and necessary. It’s called The New Hampshire Advantage. As I’ve pointed out before, taking pledges is easier than thinking.

There’s a definite NH Advantage for the state’s 27,000 millionaires and the numerous military retirees who move to NH as a sort of tax shelter. For the rest of us, the advantage hasn’t been evident in some time. What the pledge really means, is that we will continue to raise insufficient revenue to fund our state at anything more than a bare minimum. Our infrastructure will continue to crumble, our state parks will continue to deteriorate, and we will continue to rank in last place in the nation when it comes to investing in our state university system. When this lesson is finally learned, it’s going to come at a very high price.

The lessons of the Gilded Age brought about the Progressive Era. We’re now watching the reforms of the Progressive Era erode. All of the positive gains through the 1970’s are disappearing faster than the polar ice cap.

Gorham learned that libraries are a great idea. They learned that dumping sewerage in the river was not such a great idea. In a 13-year period, Gorham went from applauding the dumping of sewage into the river to having 48 water closets. Progress through plumbing! It is possible for us to learn from our history and our mistakes, but we don’t seem to do it very often.




“I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.”  Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.


© 2014 sbruce
published as an op-ed in the Oct. 3, 2014 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

From Unfit for Human Habitation to Safe Enough for Now: 24 hours in an election year



                                Peeling lead paint on the outside of a building in Manchester.

Mark Hayward had a story in the UL on Friday about a house that had been declared "unfit for human habitation. My commentary on that storyOn Saturday he updated the story.

It seems that 405 Manchester St. went from being unfit for human habitation to "safe enough" for now:

The Health Department determined it was not unsanitary as long as tenants can flush their toilets with outside water.

The Fire Department reset the fire alarm system, which had not been working, LaFreniere said.

And his building inspector determined the other violations — such as doors that do not close and bedbugs — are quality of life issues and not reason to clear out the building, said Chief Building Inspector David Albin.



Having doors that work properly are a "quality of life" issue? Expecting to be free of an insect infestation is some sort of LUXURY? 

Water still remains shut off. Albin said he’s encouraged the tenants, who aren’t paying rent, to pool their money and work out a payment plan with Manchester Water Works.

Albin said he didn’t speak to tenants when he posted the building, but several called his office to ask about it. On Thursday, several tenants said they couldn’t get answers from the city after the sign went up.
“We have a responsibility to notify you that things aren’t right,” Albin said. “The city doesn’t have a responsibility to find you a place to live.”

Chief Building Inspector Albin didn't have the guts to knock on doors to compound the misery the folks who live in 405 were already experiencing, even though "we have a responsibility to notify you that things aren't right." Then he quickly absolves the City from any responsibility to help these people who are living in a situation that has been enabled by the City. 
Every 3 years, the City of Manchester inspects apartment buildings for compliance to the housing code. A certificate of occupancy is issued when the building passes inspection. Technically, apartments should not be rented out in buildings without CoCs. In reality, it happens all the time. It happened here at 405 Manchester St. 
The last CoC for 405 expired May 2, 2014. The process of acquiring that CoC began sometime in 2009. My notes begin in January 2010, when the owner, Paul Schaefer, was supposed to meet the building inspector and didn't show up. He was fined $50. This is not the kind of fine that strikes fear into the heart of a slumlord. It's a damn sight cheaper than doing the repairs, and with enough of those no-shows, a landlord can drag the process on for months, even years. Schaefer did exactly that. 
When the building was finally inspected, 95 code violations were found. Some were "quality of life" issues like switchplate covers on electrical outlets. Many related to replacing bathroom ceiling tiles, painting bathroom ceilings, and replacing bathroom floors. The reason for all of these bathroom repairs is obvious - leaky pipes. Fixing the leaks was never, ever mentioned. Just cosmetic repairs to conceal the ongoing leaks. How could a building deteriorate so much in 3 years? Leaky pipes and cosmetic repairs would be the first place to look. 
At 405 Manchester, he process of repairing code violations  took nearly 2 years. The CoC was issued on June 2, 2011. 
Another violation mentioned a bathroom wall with peeling paint that needed to be scraped and repainted. Was it lead paint? We don't know. The City doesn't test for lead paint unless there's a poisoning case. 
At the time the CoC program was initiated in Manchester, it was regarded as cutting edge. 
Not any more. 
It's evident that the regulations need to be rewritten, and then stringently enforced. It's also clear (after looking at numerous housing files) that a three year gap between inspections is too long for some landlords. The file on 405 Manchester is very thick. All of the files on the most dilapidated buildings are thick. They've been allowed to deteriorate over the decades. They were bought and sold as slums, by landlords who make a living exploiting low income tenants. Buildings that are well maintained do not have inspections that result in 95 code violations. 
There's something of a prevailing attitude that THOSE PEOPLE (meaning the low income tenants in buildings like 405 Manchester St) should feel lucky that they have a roof over their heads. Apparently the poor somehow forfeit any right to decent housing. 
And so the City decides that a building that was unfit for human habitation for a month is suddenly an okay place for people with children to be living. 
This is a decision that lacks conscience or humanity. It's the cowardly decision of a City that doesn't want to deal with the image problem that would be created by tossing women and children out on the street just before an election. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Substandard Housing in Manchester, NH


The peeling lead paint from the railing falls on the steps, where it travels into apartments where children live. 


Union Leader reporter Mark Hayward  has a story in today's paper about a building in Manchester that was declared unfit for human habitation:


Nearly a month after Manchester building officials deemed an apartment building unfit for human habitation, several residents remained stranded there Thursday, including some parents with children.
They expressed anger and said they’ve received no direction from the city, which placed a notice on the front door of 405 Manchester St. on Aug. 27.

The water was shut off on September 11. The city can't find Paul Schaefer, the owner of the building. In the story we learn that there was someone living in the building who collected the rent. They left when the notice went up.
The most disturbing part of this story is the way the city is pretending they knew nothing:
Planning and Community Development Director Leon LaFreniere said he only found out about the situation that afternoon. His signature is stamped on the Aug. 27 notice, which declares the building “unsafe” and warns it is unlawful for anyone to enter.

Mayor Ted Gatsas said no one told him about the situation. He said Sept. 11 seems a long time to live without access to running water.

“That’s a good question. I don’t know why they’re still there,” said Gatsas, who spoke to a reporter Wednesday evening.

No one should be living in these conditions. 

The building at 405 Manchester St. had a certificate of compliance on file at City Hall that expired in May of 2014. If the standards for compliance had been stringently enforced, could a building deteriorate so much in a 3 year period that it was declared uninhabitable? Is three years too long a period to go between inspections? 
For some landlords, it most certainly is. 
The Granite State Organizing Project published a report on substandard housing in Manchester, earlier this year. I was hired as a consultant to the project, and I'm the primary author of the report. We found that "repairs" often consisted of replacing stained ceiling tiles in bathrooms, as opposed to actually fixing leaky pipes. One landlord, Mohammad Mobeen, is on the State of NH's list of lead abatement contractors, yet owns a building where there have been child lead poisonings, and other buildings where the peeling lead paint on the outside of the building is visible. 

Families with children live in these buildings. No one should be living in these conditions. 

It's my view that the City  has ignored the housing issue for decades. This situation at 405 Manchester St. will happen again and again until the City makes the decision to take the problem seriously. 



Sunday, September 21, 2014

New Hampshire's National Historic Site



On Saturday I went to the  Saint Gaudens National Historic Site. I've always wanted to see it, but never managed to get there.

I love that we have a National Historic Site in our back yard. We went on two tours while we were there, a tour of Aspet - the house:




The upstairs is closed to visitors, so for me, the best part of the house is the long porch. It's fabulous. A built in bench runs along the length of the porch, and the architectural elements are lovely - the columns and the lattice in the roof for grapevines. The view out over the fields with Mt. Ascutney in the distance is also pretty great. 

The tours are conducted by park rangers. After the house tour, we went on the art tour. The art tour began with a stop at the Farragut statue:



The base is made of bluestone, which  is a fairly soft and porous material - hence the glass covering. It shelters the statue from the worst of the weather, including acid rain, which is hell on NH statues and gravestones. 



Next stop was the New Gallery and Atrium,  with the reflecting pool. Those are gilded turtles spewing water into the pool. 


Lincoln's head is also there. 

And so is the rest of him:



Winged Victory was near Lincoln. It's a lovely statue - but that feather is truly remarkable. 

St. Gaudens had a gift for detail. His sculptures seem almost alive - as though they could move at any moment. 



We headed out on to the grounds, and walked down a path lined by enormous birches. We stopped to visit the Shaw Memorial - a Civil War monument commemorating the Massachusetts 54th regiment of African American volunteers. I grew up in Massachusetts, so I've seen the original sculpture on display at the Boston Garden many times. St. Gaudens' attention to detail is on full display in this piece. The facial expressions of the men, the horse, the objects they carry - and the angel overhead are all incredibly detailed. 



We moved on to the Adams Memorial. This statue was commissioned by historian Henry Adams, after his wife Clover took her own life. The original is in the Rock Creek Cemetery, in Washington, DC. St. Gaudens called it "The Mystery of the Hereafter...beyond pain and beyond joy." 




Next was the Little Studio, with a smaller scale version of Diana. The original Diana was a weathervane that sat atop the original Madison Square Garden. She is completely fabulous. 

Also in the Little Studio was a work area, where there were  a couple of horse heads. This was my favorite. 




The grounds and the gardens are magnificent. Everywhere you go there is something interesting and beautiful to see. 

This park is right here in NH. There's a $5 entry fee - and it is worth every dime. 

I'm so happy that my tax dollars go to funding national parks. I'd much rather fund parks than the Pentagon.