Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Smart Talk, Dumb Move

Although this blog was designed to focus on Highland Park, today I would like to divert from the local focus to address what I believe is a poor choice and a dumb move by the Smart Talk Program sponsored by NJ Biz and The Home News Tribune, specifically the decision to engage Brooke Shields as a speaker at a January 17 Smart Talk program in New Brunswick.
I have contacted NJ Biz and The Home News Tribune to protest in the strongest possible terms the choice of Brooke Shields as a Smart Talk speaker. The following are the reasons for my objection:

1. Ms. Shields is hardly the ideal role model for women. As an actress, she is not well respected in the theatrical community. The general sense is that she achieved the so-called success she has because of her looks, not because of her talent (personally, I feel her looks are nothing to write home about, but as they say, beauty and a lot of other things are in the eyes of the beholder). Psychological experiments have revealed that even today, women considered attractive get more job interviews, more job offers, are treated more kindly, etc., than their so-called less attractive counterparts. That this is occurring at the dawn of the 21st century is a travesty. It is one reason why many actresses, such as Kate Winslet, have chosen to distance themselves from the Hollywood star culture, which is more concerned with whether they gained a few pounds than with their acting skills. It is noteworthy that in England, acting is considered a craft going all the way back to the Shakespearean tradition, and has very little to do with looks. Someone old and fat can be considered a leading man or lady. I believe the choice of a speaker whose primary reason for being given acting roles is not talent but looks sends the wrong message to women and girls, reinforcing the problematic stereotype that the asset of primary importance for women is appearance (a value judgment that has led many teenage girls to suffer from anorexia and bulimia). As an actress, I take very strong exception toSmart Talk's upholding these Hollywood injustices by recognizing Ms. Shields.

2. Ms. Shields' admission to Princeton University was not one of Princeton University's most shining moments. In the old days, the Ivy League schools were known for elitist admission policies, accepting children of the wealthy and powerful even when those children's academic records were mediocre. Many in the academic world believe that money and fame were the motivation for Ms. Shields' acceptance at Princeton, harkening back to the old elitist days. In contrast, Harvard University, of which I am a proud MA graduate in Middle East Studies, has consciously distanced itself from the old elitist ways and now has an income-blind admission policy. Any student admitted from a family with an income of $40,000 a year or less is automatically granted free tuition for all four years.

3. Ms. Shields spent $15,000 each for seven IVF fertility treatments because she desperately wanted to have a baby. Yet at the same time, she has politically sided with extremist and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, author of the infamous "Contract with America," who publicly stated that society should take babies away from poor mothers who cannot support them and place the babies in orphanages rather than provide the mothers with help through social programs. For Shields to ally herself with this man and such policies while at the same time publicizing her great lengths to have a baby of her own is blatantly hypocritical and discriminatory towards poor and minority women.

4. It seems quite evident that Ms. Shields is using her experience with post-partum depression to revive a failing acting career. In the past, she has conveyed the attitude that her picture should be in newspapers and magazines for no reason other than her doing ordinary things like shopping in a store or taking a walk in the park. Again, here we see the emptiness of Hollywood, the idea of fame for fame's sake without any substance behind it--not something a series calling itself Smart Talk should encourage. I am sure there are plenty of successful women in many fields with substantial accomplishments who could provide great insights into post-partum depression. The wife of our own Governor Codey is one example. Why did Smart Talk not consider any of them or consult well-known medical professionals for references to possible candidates?

5. Ms. Shields' credibility as a writer is itself questionable. During the 1980s, she wrote a book that was supposed to be geared toward young women in their teens and early twenties. One chapter in that book was entitled "What My Virginity Means to Me." Ten years later, Ms. Shields admitted that she in fact was not a virgin when she wrote that book and that she spent her college years during the 1980s "experimenting with her sexuality." While I personally see nothing wrong with someone of age being sexually active, I believe it is extremely disingenuous and hypocritical for such a person to write and promote a book proclaiming pride in her virginity.

6. If Smart Talk insists on choosing an actor or performer, why not choose one who has done some good for the world in addition to attaining personal achievement. The message a program like this should be sending is that focusing on helping others is where real meaning lies. There are plenty of actors who have gone out of their way to do relief work around the world. Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie are two that come to mind though there are clearly many others.

For all the above reasons, I strongly urge Smart Talk to cancel Ms. Shields' appearance and replace her with a more worthy candidate, one of genuine substantial life accomplishments.

Smart Talk's web page says it "brings the most intriguing and influential women of the day face-to-face with audiences in an intimate theatrical setting." I believe I speak for many women, especially from a feminist and politically progressive perspective, when I say emphatically that Ms. Shields does not meet these qualifications.

My disappointment with this choice has led me to urge friends, family, and the many people I know to boycott the January 17 Smart Talk session if the program goes ahead with Ms. Shields as speaker.

In solidarity with women, girls, and genuinely talented actors and actresses around the world, I implore Smart Talk to reconsider their decision to feature Ms. Shields in the Smart Talk series and ask that she be replaced with someone worthy of this distinction.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Urge Corzine: No Cabinet Position for Meryl Frank

The Highland Park Democrats, a grassroots unofficial party organization opposed to the use of eminent domain and redevelopment in Highland Park strongly urges Governor-elect Jon Corzine to not appoint Highland Park Mayor Meryl Frank to any Cabinet level positions, especially president of the Board of Public Utilities, head of the Community Affairs Department, or Secretary of State.

For the last year and a half, Mayor Frank has aggressively promoted a controversial redevelopment plan in Highland Park that targets thriving businesses, describing them unfairly as "underutilized." Despite countless requests during this time, she has adamantly refused to rule out the use of eminent domain to take those properties if the owners refuse to sell. Since her redevelopment vision has no room for many of the existing businesses to remain, most of the property owners are backed against the wall. They do not want to sell but see little room for negotiating.

Also during this past year and a half, affected property owners and residents opposed to eminent domain have organized rallies and letter writing campaigns and packed meetings in an attempt to convince the mayor to preclude any use of eminent domain. Activists formed the Highland Park Citizens for Property Rights Protection, which is working together with home and business owners targeted by eminent domain across the region to oppose this injustice.

The mayor's vision of redevelopment amounts to gentrification, a pushing out of "blue collar" type businesses to replace them with upscale boutiques and luxury condominiums. This is in spite of the fact that Highland Park is not a wealthy community.

Frank has consistently treated the anti-redevelopment movement with contempt, has lied to property owners about the future of their properties, and even forced a lone Council member opposing redevelopment to resign in March 2005. That Council member had worked for Middlesex County until late 2004, when she lost her job under mysterious circumstances. Many in town have strong suspicions Mayor Frank intervened with the county Freeholders to get this person fired.

In conjunction with Highland Park Citizens for Property Rights Protection, an insurgent Democratic organization has come together to oppose Frank, her redevelopment project, and her uncompromising, inflexible leadership style. This group plans to run candidates annually in primaries to challenge Frank's candidates and break her control over the Democratic committee. Although no formal poll numbers are available, the number of Democrats siding with this insurgent group is estimated to be as high as 45% of registered Democrats in town.

In short, Meryl Frank has been and continues to be a divisive, inflexible, even tyrannical leader continually challenged in local elections, someone who is far from qualified for a Cabinet level position in state government. Governor-elect Jon Corzine is strongly urged to investigate the controversies she has caused in Highland Park and to ultimately reject her for any Cabinet level position.