Welcome to my blog, aka my place to comment and reflect on things I find inspiring, amusing, irritating, or baffling. When I was young, my Stanford PhD, former physics professor, software engineer father used to help me with my math homework, and I, being mentally deficient in all things math, could never quite get it. He would constantly say to me, "Jill, it's not rocket science." (Did I mention the PhD was in Aeronautics and Astronautics??) So I thought it would be an appropriate title for this blog because everything I write about is, indeed, not rocket science.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Mini History Lesson: Prohibition

I recently had to do a history-related writing sample, so I thought I'd copy and paste and do another mini history lesson. Prohibition is a fun topic, right? If you're interested in this subject, Ken Burns' Prohibition documentary film series is excellent, particularly parts 2 and 3. 

In 1919, Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment, or The Volstead Act (also known as Prohibition), which banned the sale, manufacture, and distribution of alcohol.  Prohibition was a complex societal reaction to America’s changing cultural landscape.  Increases in immigration, industrialization, and urbanization brought vices such as prostitution, sexual promiscuity, crime, and of course, excessive drinking.  Prohibition gained traction from the progressive reform movements of the early twentieth century and was founded upon nativism, worries about societal disorder, growing fears of unruly and immoral immigrants, anti-Catholic sentiment, and women who were fed up with their men coming home drunk and abusing them.

Anti-saloon sentiment was widespread among business leaders, progressive reform organizations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, and middle-class Protestants, all of whom believed that society’s ills could be pointed in one direction: to the saloons and those who drank at saloons, who were predominately working-class immigrants.  Business leaders hoped prohibition would help control their workforce, which would no longer be impaired by alcohol; middle-class Protestants thought it would help control the unruly immigrant community and impose order and cultural unity; and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (and other women’s and Christian organizations) thought it would improve the quality of women’s lives in the home.  Fears of drunken men visiting saloons and brothels and bringing venereal diseases into the home filled the heads of well-intentioned reformers trying to protect innocent women and children.    

As anyone familiar with old-time gangster movies or the show Boardwalk Empire knows, Prohibition was grossly ineffective and widely ignored.  Although alcohol consumption did decrease by as much as 30%, there were many unintended consequences, the largest of which was the rise of organized crime; organized crime existed before Prohibition, but flourished after it.  Prohibition cemented the gangster’s place in American history – Al Capone, Johnny Torrio, George Remus, and Lucky Luciano gained their notoriety during the Prohibition era.  Bootleggers, the name given to those who illegally smuggled alcohol, formed an underground network, producing, distributing, and selling alcohol to thirsty Americans all over the United States.  Gangs became more organized and more violent and speakeasies (illegal bars) cropped up everywhere, having the reverse effect upon society that prohibitionists had intended: more crime, vice, and social disorder. 

Enforcement of the law was laughable; corrupt politicians, police, and prohibition agents abounded, their pockets lined with cash by the people they were supposed to be arresting.  Local police were largely uninterested in enforcing the law, which left enforcement up to understaffed and underfunded federal agents, who did not have the manpower to enforce the law on an individual basis and were up against well-organized and violent gangs.  As the decade wore on, millions of Americans continued to drink and unapologetically defy the law while gangsters capitalized on their unquenchable thirst and became millionaires.

Prohibition was a hot political topic, and candidates’ stance on the issue was an important factor in determining elections; Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in 1932 partly because of his promise to repeal Prohibition.  The Great Depression made Prohibition even less popular, and as time passed, Americans became increasingly disillusioned by the law.  Ultimately, many Americans did not believe that their defiance of the law was a problem, and they didn’t want their behavior regulated by the government.  The United States government agreed that it was a lost cause, and Prohibition ended in 1933, with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment, the first amendment to ever repeal a previous amendment.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Holiday Anxiety

It's October 23rd and I'm already getting anxious about the holidays. I love the holidays and all the fun and togetherness, but the older I get, the more I dread them in some ways. Last night I was thinking about all the things that are involved with the happiest time of the year: decorating, shopping, wrapping, parties, cooking, eating, coordinating, etc. There is a great line in my favorite Christmas movie, Christmas Vacation, when Ellen says, "It's Christmas, and we're all in misery!" This is my mom's favorite line. Every woman, and especially every mother, knows how much work the holidays are.

First there is the shopping. I do most of my shopping online, to save myself from the hell that is the mall at Christmastime, but it's still a lot of work and a lot of money. And I try to put as much thought as possible into my gifts, which means I usually don't go the gift card route. Then there is the decorating. This is an all-day, possibly all-weekend affair. Granted, I'm guilty as hell because I adore Christmas decorations and usually go way overboard, but still...it's a lot of work! Then there is the cooking and eating. I escape most of the cooking because I have a big family and a small house, but I still help out, and I usually bake some sort of holiday treat. But the eating...oh God, the eating. So much food. We have two major holidays a month apart, yet the food binging seems like it goes on for two months. The parties, the dinner celebrations, the leftovers, the cookies, the candy, and the booze. And then there's the inevitable guilt and "I hate myself" feeling after it's all over. Then comes the New Year's resolutions, when we swear we we will never eat or drink that much again! But we do, the next holiday season.

So yes, the holidays are joyous and fun-filled and all that. But they're also stressful, exhausting, and fattening. And that's why I'm having holiday anxiety on October 23rd. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pointless Update

It's busy season at work, which means less blogging time. But I do have a few pointless things to say: 

1. Giants and A's in the playoffs - woo hoo! I anticipate getting less sleep during these next several weeks. 
2. The season premiere of Dexter was amazing, and I can't wait to see how this season plays out. If you don't watch Dexter, you should (if you don't mind gore).
3. Boardwalk Empire has been disappointing so far. I miss Jimmy Darmody; I didn't realize how important he was to the show until he was gone. I am not enjoying Nucky and Margaret's strained relationship, and what is the deal with the girl that Nucky seems to be in love with? I still frickin' love Richard Harrow. 
4. I have been doing some pro bono work for an awesome non-profit called the GLOW Foundation. Check them out! 
5. I learned a networking method from a career counselor, and I have my work cut out for me. She said when she used the method, she talked to 199 people. Zero down, 199 to go! 

That's all until my work deadline is over in 1 1/2 weeks...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Service Industry Experience Should Be a Life Requirement

In high school, I worked as a hostess at a restaurant called The Good Earth. I was 15-16 years old, just trying to earn some extra spending money, and I was often treated poorly and even yelled at (I told a family that they couldn't put a high chair at the end of a booth because it was against the fire code, and they yelled at me and stormed out). It turned me into a cynic, and I hated that. So I quit. Ever since, I have said that everyone should work in the service industry (retail, restaurant, etc.) at least once in their life because it makes you a better person: more understanding, compassionate, and patient. 

I also worked at Gap for a while after college, when I was searching for a "real" job. For the most part my experience was pleasant, but every once in a while, I encountered a real jerk. Usually it was someone trying to return something without a receipt and wanting cash back (I've never heard of a store that allows this except Nordstrom). People would complain to me about the return policy, because a $10/hour cashier sure has a lot of say in determining corporate policy. I never took it personally and understood that it was just people venting their frustrations to the person in front of them. But overall, I found that working retail was more pleasant than working at the restaurant - I think people are ruder when it comes to their food.

People who are jerks to waiters probably have never worked at a restaurant before, hence my reasoning for service industry employment being a requirement in life! My grandparents were notoriously snarky with waiters, and my family and I joke that they probably ate a lot of boogers (or worse!) in their day. You just don't mess with someone who is serving you food! Of course there are exceptions when it's appropriate to be firm with a waiter (when they're terrible), but I think some people get off on treating others poorly - especially those who are "serving" them. It's an ego-boosting, "I'm better than you," sicko power trip. I want to round up these people and force them to bus tables at their local Applebee's. Then maybe they'll think twice the next time they're nasty to a server - they never know what unwanted surprise they might find in their food.

Friday, September 14, 2012

My New Obsession: Carley's Clear & Smooth Skin Care

I am obsessed with Carley's Clear & Smooth skin care products and want to tell everyone about them (no, I don't work for this company and am in no way affiliated with them). I have terribly dry facial skin; when it's really bad (the winter), I can scratch flakes of dead skin off my face. It's gross, unattractive, and can be painful. And it doesn't help that I wear foundation and powder every day, which dries out my face even more. I've tried several products with no success, and my most recent purchase was an expensive moisturizer from Origins (1.7 ounces for $39.50). Well, it was crap. It smelled nice, but my face was still very dry, even after slathering it on twice a day.

About a month ago, I was relaying my tale of woe to a college girlfriend, and she told me about Carley's. She gave me some samples to take home, and within three days, I was hooked. I went online and bought four of their products, and I have been in skin heaven for the past several weeks. I still have some dryness, but it is 10x better than it was. My favorite moisturizer comes in a ginormous tub, about 5 times the size of the Origins stuff, and at half the price ($19). And it works incredibly!!! I love all the other stuff I bought, too (an anti-aging exfoliant, a daytime moisturizer, and an eye cream). And every product you buy comes with a full-size bar of soap, which is also awesome. They also have incredible customer service, cheap and fast shipping ($5), and with my shipment I received a ton of free samples (lip gloss, hand cream, nighttime moisturizer, eczema cream, etc.), and they have a 100% satisfaction guarantee policy. If something's not working for you, you can send it back and they will even pay for the return shipping. AND they offer discounts if you buy 2 or more items. Are you sold yet?? I love this company! I should be their spokesperson! 

Anyone with skin issues like I have must check out Carley's! They also have a ton of acne products and stuff for scarring and discoloration, but luckily I don't have acne issues.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Mini History Lesson: Native American History

I took a Native American history class from one of my favorite professors at San Jose State, and I just came across my notes from one of his lectures. Time for another mini history lesson! 

Indian history (yes, it's acceptable to use the word "Indian." As my professor explained, Indians don't care what other people call them; they call themselves Sioux, Dakota, Cheyenne, Lakota, and so on) is a challenging field because Indians do not have a written history - it's oral, passed from generation to generation. And oftentimes, one must earn the trust of a person(s) to gain access to a tribe's resources (something about Indians not trusting outsiders - hmmm, I can't imagine why?). Native American history was not my specialty, but I sure did love it. It's complex, challenging, fascinating, and oftentimes frustrating and heartbreaking. 

One of my favorite comments people make when referring to Indian history and the constant, too-often bloody conflict with whites is, "Why didn't all the Indians just band together and fight the Americans?" This would be like asking, "Why don't the Palestinians and Israelis just band together and settle their differences?" We know that that is a ridiculous thing to say, and the same is true of the preceding question. This misguided question assumes that a) all tribes were the same, b) all tribes got along, c) all tribes shared the same interests, and d) all tribes agreed upon the method in which to deal with white intrusion. 

The word "Indian" is all-encompassing, but as you may have gathered, there are hundreds of Indian tribes, each with their own language, customs, traditions, histories, and they are scattered all over the United States. It is ridiculous to think that they could have just set aside their differences (many tribes hated each other), formed a giant army (how would this have been logistically possible?), and fought "the white man" (who had superior weaponry). It's fun to think about, but it is the stuff of fantasy (it reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino movie, on par with Django Unchained or Inglourious Basterds). And don't forget, more Indians died from European diseases (small pox, influenza, plague, etc.) than from bloodshed. 

(Fun fact: we always associate Indians with horses (think every Western movie), riding gallantly towards battle with their faces painted and battle dress on, but it was actually the Spanish who introduced the domesticated horse to the Americas in the 1500s.)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Don't Drink Bleach and You'll Be Fine

I wanted to hang myself when I read this article. Here's a summary: "Fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be far less expensive. Nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E. coli. The researchers also found no obvious health advantages to eating organic meats." In other words, "The joke's on you, suckers, for paying double for your fruits, vegetables, and meat." Of course the article goes on to say that there are still traces of pesticides on non-organic produce and for this reason, organic is preferable. But if you don't mind some pesticides in your diet, then there's apparently no need to buy organic. Will I still buy organic? Probably, because I'm a sucker.

You really can't win. You try to be conscientiousness and healthy, but a new study reveals that another thing you're doing is slowly killing you. My friend showed me this website the other day, which explains how much BPA is in our bodies from all the food/drinks we consume that are contained in plastic. And I've read that canned food also elevates BPA levels in our bodiesGreat, now I'm going to die from plastic residue clogging my arteries. Oh, and those reusable bags I take to the grocery store because I'm a good environmentalist? They're giving me lead poisoning. Just one more thing that makes you want to bang your head against the wall. 

Over the years I've heard countless studies and new trends which praise or demonize certain foods/products. But it's all too much. At some point, you just have to throw up your hands and say, F it. In my opinion, as long as you're not drinking bleach, then you'll be fine. Now I'm going to go eat my lunch, which is inside a plastic container. And if I'm feeling adventurous, I might eat a non-organic apple. I think I'll live.  

(I recently tried out Tom's deodorant because I was trying to avoid the aluminum in anti-perspirants - apparently it gives you Alzheimer's. But guess what? I reeked. I think I'll roll the dice for the sake of hygiene.)