We Are All Susan Boyle

Last week, a dowdy, unemployed 47 year old spinster from Great Britain rocked the world with a performance on the British equivalent of American Idol. In doing so, she redefined the word beauty, and opened untold doors for many of we aging frumpsters.

Commentary By: Letty Cottin Pogrebin

[Ed. Note: The following column originally appeared on Huffington Post.

Over the past week, I’ve read passing references to Susan Boyle’s performance on the Brit equivalent of American Idol. Until today, though, I hadn’t actually watched the video. As soon as I did, I wanted to write a post – but found one by Letty Cottin Pogrebin that expressed everything I wanted to write. If you’re one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t yet seen the video, treat yourself – then read Ms. Pogrebin’s response below. Oh, and Ariana, if you feel the need to forward a DMCA, send it to allspinzone -at- yahoo -dot- com.

-r.b., 4/19/09]

Susan Boyle Stuns Crowd with Epic Singing – Watch more Funny Videos

Half the women I sent the link to cried when they watched the YouTube clip of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent and I think I know why.

Given its nearly eight million hits thus far, you’ve probably seen her, the matronly lady all decked out in that mother-of-the-bride cocktail dress and matching open-toed pumps, hair by some neighborhood beauty shop, eyebrows John L. Lewis. In the opening scene, while awaiting her turn on the British version of American Idol, she breezily confides that she is unemployed, lives alone with a cat named Pebbles, and has never been married or kissed.

Once on stage, her interrogator, Simon Cowell, asks about her dream. To be a professional singer, she says, and as successful as Elaine Page – a statement that elicits great hilarity and hyperactive camera close-ups of the judges’ bemused disbelief and the snickering, eye-rolling audience. Clearly, everyone is thinking, Elaine Paige!? Are you actually comparing yourself to the First Lady of the British Musical Theater, the singer whose recording of the Cats anthem, “Memory,” topped the charts for months, and who starred as Eva Peron in the first production of Evita? You’ve got to be kidding.

Cheerful and unperturbed, the contestant blithely announces that she is going to sing, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.

“How old are you, Susan?” asks Simon, in a tone more appropriate to an interview with a toddler.

“Forty-seven,” she says. The audience cracks up. Pixels of ridicule fill the screen, incredulity, patronizing sneers, smirks, whispers you can almost hear: Look at her, will you! Frumpy from the Fifties, got a double chin, a silly Scottish accent, hails from some tiny hamlet, can’t remember the word “villages,” and to top it off, Omigod, she’s old! Either she’s a ringer and we’re in for some weird parody of Dame Edna or we’re about to see this dowdy dame make a fool of herself on the hottest show on British telly.

Finally, Susan Boyle steps into the spotlight and opens her mouth, and before she’s sung three glorious, crystal clear notes, the audience is cheering, the judges’ jaws have dropped, and I’m choking back tears.

After she got her unanimous Yes votes from Simon, Amanda, and Piers, I typed “Ageism Be Damned” in the subject line of an email and sent the YouTube link to everyone on my Women’s Issues list and within an hour, more than a dozen had written to tell me that it made them weep. Since then I’ve talked to other friends who’ve confessed to the same reaction. What are we all crying about? What is it about this woman that touches us so deeply?

Partly, I think it’s the age thing, the fact that a woman closing in on 50 had the courage to compete with the kids – and blew them out of the water. “Women of a certain age” should be forgiven for finding vicarious satisfaction in Susan’s victory. In plain words, it’s an up-yours to the cocky youth culture that often writes us off.

Then, too, we were weeping for the years of wasted talent, the career that wasn’t, the time lost – both for Susan Boyle and two generations of her putative fans. If someone with a voice like Julie Andrews’ spent decades in a sea of frustration and obscurity, how many other women (and men) must be out there becalmed in the same boat? I believe we were crying for them and for whatever unrealized, yet-to-be-expressed talent may lie within ourselves.

But I’d wager that most of our joyful tears were fueled by the moral implicit in Susan’s fairy-tale performance: “You can’t tell a book by its cover.” For such extraordinary artistry to emerge from a woman that plain-spoken, unglamorous, and unyoung was an intoxicating reminder of the wisdom in that corny old clich–©. The three judges and virtually all those who watched Susan Boyle in the theater (and probably on YouTube as well) were initially blinded by entrenched stereotypes of age, class, gender, and Western beauty standards, until her book was opened and everyone saw what was inside.

I think we cried because her story appears to be en route to a happy ending, but also, perhaps, for all the books whose covers have never been cracked.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin is a founding editor of Ms. magazine and the author of nine books.

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 by Letty Cottin Pogrebin |

How to be a Hit at the Prom This Year! Dress Made of Condoms

Well, wouldn’t a dress made of condoms come in awfully handy on Prom night? The big question is how many whack job extreemists will show up to protest the dress.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

The Philadelphia Daily News has a picture of a wedding dress made of condoms, though I think it would probably come in far more handy as a Prom dress. Just think, all the other attendees would be your best friend as they head to their after-Prom activities (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

This was done by a design student at Rosemont College, where I’m sure extra security is being laid down with the expected protests from extremists whack jobs due in 5. . . 4. . . . 3. . . 2. . .

Monday, April 20th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Teabaggery in Philly

Awesome pictures of teabaggery at the all-white Philadelphia Love Park celebration. 200 people teabagging? The photographer evidently edited out the sex, though, so these are safe for work unless you have a low tolerance for tacky.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

I was not a witness to any sex acts in the appropriately named Love Park, but phillybits was, and he’s put up an AWESOME picture of Brendan Skwire of Brendancalling teabagging a couple teabags. Oh, and Brendan himself has some pictures of the Love Park Republican kinkfest!

Phillybits also has a slide show that shows the all white teabagging group of around 200 people gathered in Love Park. One guy has on a camoflage jacket. Fashion faux pas, for sure. I mane, it should be illegal to wear camo int he city. Who’s he trying to hide from, anyway?

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Heterosexual Couples Flee Vermont

Heterosexual families are due to start fleeing Vermont in fear of their own marriages now that the legislature has overridden the Governor’s veto and legalized gay marraige in the state. Celebrations will be unrestrained amongst supporters, but opponents are packing and leaving in what is neither a brain nor ethical drain on the state.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

In an override of the Governor’s Veto just minutes ago, the legislature cleared the way for the legalization of gay and lesbians in the state to marry. It may be too soon to report, and is just a rumor (started by me) at this time, but it is anticipated that dozens of families are packing up and leaving the state before their marriages are destroyed by the coming gay nuptuals. Here’s the story about the legislative action from the AP wire:

Vermont on Tuesday became the fourth state to legalize gay marriage – and the first to do so with a legislature’s vote.

The House recorded a dramatic 100-49 vote – the minimum needed – to override Gov. Jim Douglas’ veto. Its vote followed a much easier override vote in the Senate, which rebuffed the Republican governor with a vote of 23-5.

. . .

House Speaker Shap Smith’s announcement of the vote brought an outburst of jubilation from some of the hundreds packed into the gallery and the lobby outside the House chamber, despite the speaker’s admonishment against such displays.

Among the celebrants in the lobby were former Rep. Robert Dostis, D-Waterbury, and his longtime partner, Chuck Kletecka. Dostis recalled efforts to expand gay rights dating to an anti-discrimination law passed in 1992.

“It’s been a very long battle. It’s been almost 20 years to get to this point,” Dostis said. “I think finally, most people in Vermont understand that we’re a couple like any other couple. We’re as good and as bad as any other group of people. And now I think we have a chance to prove ourselves here on forward that we’re good members of our community.”

Dostis said he and Kletecka will celebrate their 25th year together in September.

“Is that a proposal?” Kletecka asked.

“Yeah,” Dostis replied. “Twenty-five years together, I think it’s time we finally got married.”

There’s another story at Reuters, and a story with a link to a live video feed on Pam’s House Blend. There’s sure to be some top notch reporting about reactions to the vote at the Burlington Free Press, and they do have some great pictures, but it is early. there will be many celebrations, I’m sure, even among Vermont businesses, whose CEOs have supported gay marriage.

Opponents of gay marriage spent the last few days lobbying their legislators in vain and annoying the hell out of their fellow citizens. Robocalls hit thousands of homes on behalf of those hoping legislators would sustain the Governor’s veto. They failed, probably because Vermonters are not going to listen to robots telling them what to do. Frankly, they used the exact worst strategy possible to try and turn the tide here. Robocalls to Vermonters probably work as well as does a buggy whip does to get one’s broken down car going.

So be careful on the roads out of Vermont in the next few days. Opponents of gay marriage will be fleeing the state in droves and abandoning their properties, fleeing the celebrations of those for whom civil rights are precious and now for all in Vermont. Chaos likely will ensue. At least that’s the rumor.

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

McCain Leads Fight to Pardon Jack Johnson

John McCain is fighting for a pardon for his good friend Jack Johnson. McCain was an amateur boxer back in the day and long admired Johnson’s fighting, or so he says. Once he gets the bill in front of Barack Obama McCain is all set to yell “Get Off My Lawn” again fromt he comfort of his porch.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Hooray for John McCain. He has enlisted several folks to help him procure a pardon for Jack Johnson, the boxer. Johnson was charged with the Mann Act and served a year in Leavenworth a long, long time ago. The Mann Act? That’s for transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes. Peter King and a few others are joining McCain in sponsoring a bill to pardon Jaohnson, though why they don’t just send a petition I don’t know. Wouldn’t Barack Obama be receptive? Still, hoorah for John McCain working hard to posthumously pardon one of his childhood heroes. Childhood heroes? From Yahoo.com:

Sen. John McCain wants a presidential pardon for Jack Johnson, who became the nation’s first black heavyweight boxing champion 100 years before Barack Obama became its first black president.

McCain feels Johnson was wronged by a 1913 conviction of violating the Mann Act by having a consensual relationship with a white woman – a conviction widely seen as racially motivated.

“I’ve been a very big fight fan, I was a mediocre boxer myself,” McCain, R-Ariz., said in a telephone interview. “I had admired Jack Johnson’s prowess in the ring. And the more I found out about him, the more I thought a grave injustice was done.”

He had admired Johnson in the ring? Johnson last fought in 1938 while in his fifties, far past his prime and when John McCain was in his infancy. I mean, I know John McCain is older than dirt, but even he isn’t old enough to have admired Johnson’s fighting. Sure, Ken Burns did a documentary about Johnson that aired in 2005. Yeah, maybe that’s what McCain is talking about, but the context speaks otherwise to me.

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Earth Hour, 2009: You Can Make a Difference Tonight

Tonight, between 8:30 and 9:30PM, regardless of your time zone, you have the opportunity to create a synergy with millions of other people by turning off your lights for an hour, in observance of Earth Hour.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

sydney earth hourWhen I reflect on my trip to AIG’s headquarters in NYC two weeks ago, the most important takeaway that I get from my effort is that one person can indeed make a difference. My peaceful, lone man protest forced a disruption on one of the world’s largest firms.

When I reflect on the issue of climate change and global warming, it almost seems overwhelming, and that one person’s efforts would be so small in the larger scheme of things so as to be useless. But then I think back to my hours in the canyons of New York City’s financial district, and the impact that it created. Yes, I can make a difference. And if thousands (or millions) join me, in whatever the issue or endeavor, then the statement becomes powerful and hard to ignore.

Tonight, between 8:30 and 9:30PM, regardless of your time zone, you have the opportunity to create a synergy with millions of other people by turning off your lights for an hour, in observance of Earth Hour. The picture to the left is downtown Sydney, Australia earlier today. Quite an impact, huh?

Yes, Earth Hour is a largely symbolic gesture. The message that it sends, though, is visually unique and emotionally compelling: there is power in numbers, irrespective of the cause or issue. The idea started as the brainchild of one single person, and has grown to a global movement, much the same as my lone protest in NYC was one person’s effort to express his own dissatisfaction with the status quo.

What’s the difference? With Earth Hour, the personal inconvenience to participate is near zero; the only requirement to participate is flipping a light switch to the “off” position. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

If you believe in the cause of climate change and global warming, will you please join me this evening and and make a statement? Step into your power, and kill the power for one hour.

Update, 3/30/09:You simply have to read this post on Earth Hour (and the comments) at Bob Cesca’s Awesome Goddamn Blog. Hilarious!

Saturday, March 28th, 2009 by Richard Blair |

Where You At, Dude?

Crank it up…rock on…

Commentary By: Richard Blair

You could email this link to Paul, if you really wanted to…


Saturday, March 21st, 2009 by Richard Blair |
Category: Inspirational

It is Time to Leave Bristol Palin Alone

It has long bothered me the way we feel free to talk about Bristol Palin merely because of choices she made. As I now parent an adopted child whose birth mother made some difficult emotional decisions, not unlike those Bristol Palin made, my attitude towards Bristol have changed. Blast Sarah all you wish, but leave Bristol alone.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

The bottom line is that Bristol Palin is now a mother, a teen mother, and that will make it tough for her. It is time for Greta Van Susteren to leave Bristol Palin alone, it is time for Rebecca Traister of Salon Magazine to leave Bristol Palin alone, and it is time for bloggers to leave Bristol Palin alone. Go ahead and comment, if you please, on Sarah Palin and her new tax problems, but it is time for us all to let Bristol Palin make decisions about her life and that of her son.

There. I said it. I said it not as a political commentator but as a father of an adopted son whose birth mother also had to make some very difficult decisions about pregnancy, childbirth, and whether to keep the baby or make an adoption plan. I’m personally grateful that my son’s birth mother made that adoption plan, as he lights up my life even as I write this short piece. (That’s my pride and joy right there on the left.) I just can’t imagine the difficulty of making a decision about an unexpected pregnancy, and that’s what Bristol Palin’s was. It just isn’t in me anymore to judge her. What we should do instead is try to understand the very difficult decisions young women, women of all ages, for that matter, go through when they find themselves unprepared for a pregnancy.

Today’s issue of Philadelphia Weekly gives us some insight into just this matter. The article is written by Jennifer Merrill, and she describes herself as follows. From Philadelphia Weekly:

I’m 18 years old. I recently graduated high school in the top 10 percent of my class with a 97 percent GPA. I was Student Council co-president and co-editor of the school newspaper, as well as a member of the National Honor Society, Student Advisory Council, National Latin Honor Society, Quill and Scroll Honorary Society for High School Journalists and the yearbook staff. I was even on the homecoming court and was named “Friendliest” in the senior class Who’s Who. As a freshman at Temple University, I’m majoring in magazine journalism. I’m just your average teenager–well, except for one thing: I’m pregnant.

Jennifer Merrill’s article is the cover story this week in Philadelphia Weekly, and surely deserves the cover. It is very much a first-person account, even moving through a narrative form through much of the article as she leads the reader through the difficult moments she lived through since finding she was pregnant last August. We find what happens when she found out she was prenant, and how both her mother and boyfriend handled it. We also find that while Jennifer Merril is pro-choice, she could not make the decision of abortion concerning the baby in her own body. To me, that’s truly pro-choice, that she chose, and had the freedom to do so.

Jennifer ends her article leaving us in the air. She’s evidently not decided whether to make an adoption plan or to raise the baby and try at the same time to continue her schooling. To that end I would just like to say that both decisions can have joyous results, and that many open adoptions will mean she has contact with her baby throughout the baby’s life. I might talk about the joys adoption has brought to my wife and myself, and how we imagine that adoption has set Jack’s birth mother’s heart to rest. I might let her knwo that an adoptive family will likely be more ready materially to care for her baby than she will, though I would continue to stress that I can’t hope to understand the mother love she is developing as she carries the child to term. But mostly I would tell Jennifer Merrill that whatever decision she makes from here on out it should be the interest of the baby and herself that she should be focused on, and not the expectations of those outside her immediate situation. But, you know, I think Jennifer Merrill truly understands all that, and I think she’s a remarkable young woman. Here are the words with which she closes the article in Philadelphia Weekly:

Regardless of what I choose, I know I’m making the decision out of love. I feel confident in saying that no matter which option I go with, the baby will have a good life. She will be given opportunities. She will have parents she can look up to. Most important, she will be loved. This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and I can only hope that one day she will understand.

Yeah, Jennifer Merrill has her act together, and she’s going to make a fine decision in this very difficult time of life, and I’m happy she has the room to make that decision. That’s where we have all gone wrong when discussing Bristol Palin. We have not treated her as a woman, though very young, coming to grips with some of the most important and emotional decisions of her life. Oh, Rebecca Traister surely implies that those decisions are actually guided strongly by Sarah Palin herself, but even that I find to be distasteful to critique. Let’s leave Bristol Palin alone. Let’s let her choose how to live her life, and let’s also hope she has the support she needs for her choices.

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Bush Celebrated in Tikrit, Saddam’s Hometown, with Statue

Perhaps it is not politically correct to cheer for others as they body slam our former President Dubya. But the residents of Tikrit in Iraq went a long way to honor the Bush legacy with a sculpture that is, how shall we say, soleful.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

OK, now I am convinced the Iraq War was the right thing to do. Even in Saddam Hussein’™s hometown the citizens are honoring him with a statue. There it is on the left. Isn’™t it beautiful? From ABCNews:

When an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at George W. Bush last month at a Baghdad press conference, the attack spawned a flood of Web quips, political satire and street rallies across the Arab world.

Now it’™s inspired a work of art.

A sofa-sized sculpture ‘” a single copper-coated shoe on a stand carved to resemble flowing cloth ‘” was formally unveiled to the public Thursday in the hometown of the late Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.

Officials and visitors walked around the outdoor sculpture during the brief ceremony, pondering on its eccentricities ‘” such as a tree poking up from the shoe’™s interior.

Its sculptor called it a fitting tribute to the shoe hurler, Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi, and his folk hero reputation in parts of the Muslim world and beyond.

The Baghdad-based artist, Laith al-Amari, said the work honors al-Zeidi and ‘œis a source of pride for all Iraqis.’ He added: ‘œIt’™s not a political work.’

Not since the Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe has a person meant so much to cobblers and shoe sellers everywhere. Heck, if I were Nike I would think of signing Dubya up for a personal services contract.

Thursday, January 29th, 2009 by Richard Blair |

Mr. Obama, Come Try Some “Wooder” Ice

The press is all atwitter because Barack Obama ditched them to take the girls to a water park. Then they got petulant and wouldn’t join him for a shave ice at a local food stand in Hawaii. Obama should have more real life encounters, and I propose one complete with Philly water ice at Fitler Academics Plus School in Germantown, where kids are inspirational.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Mr. Obama is still in Hawaii. He escaped reporters in what they are jokingly referring to as Waikiki-gate, a swift move whereby the Barack Obama took Malia and Sasha to a water park without press interference. Then they stopped for “shave ice,” evidently some form of Hawaiian delicacy not unlike South Philadelphia water ice, pronounced “wooder ice” by the locals here. As noted by the Washington Post, Mr. Obama treated several kids who happened to be at the shave ice shop, and it got me thinking. The kids of Fitler Academics Plus School here in Philly have sent off letters of advice to the President, and He should come out here, maybe with Sasha and Malia, and listen to their fine words.

I don’t expect our Philadelphia kids to tell Mr. Obama all about Michael Nutter’s infrastructure projects. Michael probably has someone down in DC whispering in the appropriate ears already. But the kids at Fitler have taken Mr. Obama’s message of hope to heart and it needs some recognition by the President-elect. The eighth graders there have formed the Obama Hope Organization, a group of kids helping each other with tutoring and reading and, well, hope. Barack Obama’s election has been an inspiration for the students, and they’ve all written him a letter. Here are some excerpts, from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“I hope that you have a great life and that you will be the greatest, because I was Barack Obama for Halloween and I wanted black people to kick it up a notch and win. Call me anytime,” wrote Tymeer Beal, who conveniently provided the president-elect with his phone number in case Obama wanted his advice on kicking it up a notch.

. . .

“I said, –I hope you can fix stuff, because people are poor,’ ” said Kyrell Harrison.

“I want Barack Obama to help the older people and the younger people,” Daisy Stone said.

“I said, –Will you please be a good president and we’re counting on you,’ ” said Jaden Rimes, a confident young man who says he knows exactly what it means to be the president: “It means taking care of people. And lowering prices.”

The real reason Obama should visit the school, and have them treat him to some Philadelphia Water Ice is that they have embodied the Obama theme of hope and service, with the older kids digging in and helping the younger ones. We don’t need an Obama visit to Philly to boost Michael Nutter’s plans. (Hey, if Michael gets the Eagles to pay up, then I’ll ask for an Obama visit just for him!) The notion of a visit by Barack Obama to this city school that is doing wonders, especially with it’s student-run Obama Hope Organization, is to reward the students for ispiring all of us. They also make me smile. Here’s the last little bit of the article, with some of the goals of the kids, and a bit of humor (from the Philadelphia Inquirer):

The Obama Hope Organization, chartered by a handful of seventh- and eighth-grade students, has big plans.

Eighth grader Sierra Graham ticked off the things she wants the group to accomplish, aligned with Obama’s focus on education and health care.

“We should try to influence the young children to be anything they want to be,” Graham said. (Think of the planned literacy campaign and a tutoring program for students who need help, she added.)

Her friend Michelle Harvey, who said the group wants to recruit more members, nodded.

“We hope to volunteer our time, to give back, to be mentors. We’ll donate to the less fortunate,” Harvey said.

But the talk isn’t all serious, Kyshon Jackson confessed. She’s spent a fair amount of time thinking about how the president is cute.

“At first, I was going to write him a love letter,” she said. “But I didn’t think Michelle would like it. She seems feisty.”

Every holiday season needs a little inspiration, and after eight years of Bush Christmases, with soldiers in harms way, with disasters bungled, with the envirnoment trashed and the economy now in shambles, we need to take our inspiration where we can get it. Seventh and eighth graders are a good source if you ask me.

Saturday, December 27th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |
Next Page »