Category Archives: American Culture

Posts to do with American culture, places, and history excluding WW2 history

My first overdue library book was A Light in the Attic

wheresidewalk.jpg

By: Danielle Prostrollo

Of course it is no badge of pride to have an overdue library book, but it is nonetheless true.  When I was about 7 years old I borrowed the popular Shel Silverstein book from the public library and then managed to accidentally keep it for, what I think was, 3 or 4 years.  That’s a lot of money in overdue fines.  But while my criminal record is forever tarnished, my relationship with poetry was shaped by that compilation.

I still go back to Silverstein on occasion, his writing is proof that poetry and literature does not need to be erudite to be masterful.  Most of his poems are one or two stanzas – short enough to keep the interest of young readers – and depict a world where not everything is sunshine and rainbows, but that it’s usually ok anyway.

In his later book Falling Up, Silverstein posits that if sunglasses keep out the sun then surely rainglasses can keep out the rain.  This kind of close-to-home whimsy allows kids (and grown-ups) to question their own world and consider why things are ‘the way they are’.

Other Silverstein works hit on aspects of life that most will find relevant well into adulthood as is the case with Tell Me which manages to distill common human phenomenon… “tell me I’m great/look thin/did a good job/etc… but be honest” into 8 lines.

In a time when it feels increasingly nice to turn off the news for a spell, A Light in the Attic (and any Shel Silverstein book) feels just as entertaining, relatable, and poignant as it did when I was seven.

You can find A Light In The Attic at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library here:
https://norfolk.spydus.co.uk/cgi-bin/spydus.exe/ENQ/OPAC/BIBENQ?BRN=404940

Photo: http://www.shelsilverstein.com/ from the cover of Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends

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Filed under American Culture, Books, Memorial Library

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance

By Danielle Prostrollo

mlkToday marks another Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: a welcomed day off for many, a few mattress and car sales, and another cursory glance at the I Have a Dream speech.

But King was more than his iconic speech. He was a normal person who believed poor and working people should have equal opportunity to live with dignity and decency – a conversation we are still having today.

In a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King made it clear that “the ‘no D’ is as significant as the PhD and the man who has been to ‘No House’ is as significant as the man who has been to Morehouse” (King, p. 246).  In a recent Ted talk, Ken Robinson similarly chided the reality that certain jobs have been put on a pedestal and others disparaged.

To illustrate this point, Robinson recounts the story of a young firefighter:
“When I got to the senior year of school, my teachers didn’t take it seriously. This one teacher didn’t take it seriously. He said I was throwing my life away if that’s all I chose to do with it; that I should go to college, I should become a professional person, that I had great potential and I was wasting my talent to do that.” He said, “It was humiliating. It was in front of the whole class and I felt dreadful. But it’s what I wanted, and as soon as I left school, I applied to the fire service and I was accepted. You know, I was thinking about that guy recently, just a few minutes ago when you were speaking, about [the] teacher, because six months ago, I saved his life.”

The young firefighter pulled his former teacher and wife out of the wreckage of a car crash.

The world needs firefighters, garbage collectors, cleaners.  Every person deserves dignity and the chance to earn a decent wage.  Businessmen, lawyers, and the wealthy do not hold the monopoly on living value.  News stories about the minimum wage economy (e.g. Walmart wages and food stamps) put King’s belief in a current societal context.

We know the “I Have a Dream” speech but today we need to look beyond the myth at the imperfect man who battled the crushing pressures of fighting for what he believed in and can perhaps consider what we believe in and how we, too, might stand up for it.

A couple of books that help dispel the mythology of MLK, Jr.:
  • The Radical King, by Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Cornel West
    This book is a collection of King’s speeches organized and introduced by West to highlight the progression of King’s values over time
  • Death of a King, by Tavis Smiley
    Smiley takes interviews of King’s widow, close friends, and scholars and puts together a realistic look at the last year of King’s life
A link to Ken Robinson’s whole Ted talk (video and transcript)

 

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Filed under American Culture, American History, American Politics, Books, Current Events, Uncategorized

The Women Who Propelled Us

“Before Apple, before IBM, and before our modern definition of a central processing unit partnered with memory, the word computer referred simply to a person who computes. Using only paper, a pencil, and their minds, these computers tackled complex mathematical equations” (Holt 13).

 

By: Danielle Prostrollo 

As a woman attempting to make my own contribution to our collective experience I am always keen to learn more about those who have done the impossible, broken ‘glass ceilings’, and changed their field – in little or large ways.  And the human computers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory did exactly that.

The forthcoming film Hidden Figures based on the book of the same name, by Margot Lee Shetterly, specifically follows the lives of several female African American human computers who were vital to America’s success in the space race. The film has already garnered a lot of attention from the media, shining a spotlight to the extraordinary contribution of this group of women.

To learn more I picked up Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt and took to the Internet.

My investigation ended up focusing on two women:
1) Barbara “Barby” Canright
2) Macie Roberts

Barby was with the Lab from the beginning, starting out her career as a typist at Caltech (where JPL got its start). She and her husband Richard were friends with the “Suicide Squad” that founded JPL – Jack Parsons, Frank Malina, and Ed Forman.

In school she had always done well in mathematics and science but never imagined a possible career in the field. Despite this, she was ultimately responsible for the thrust-to-weight ratio – an equation that compared performance of the engines under different conditions.

Macie came to JPL having never heard of human computers but quickly rose through the ranks to become the computer supervisor. Before coming to the lab she had a career as an IRS auditor, learning the physics of rocketry at a late age. Because of this, she was a stickler for correct terminology. If you incorrectly called rocket propellant “fuel” she would explain that fuel does not have an oxidizer in it, which is necessary to get the rocket to go anywhere (and if there’s no oxygen in the atmosphere then the rocket will need its own supply of an oxydizer).

As the supervisor Macie was in charge of hiring on new computers. She opted to keep the team women-only in order to promote a cohesive, family-like atmosphere but also because she couldn’t envision a man taking orders from her. We’ve made great strides in all kinds of equality since the ‘60s but there is still far to go!

 

Holt, N. (2016). Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars.

Worrall, Simon. “The Secret History of the Women Who Got Us Beyond the Moon.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 8 May 2016. Web.

Popova, Maria. “The Rise of Rocket Girls: The Untold Story of the Remarkable Women Who Powered Space Exploration.” Brain Pickings. N.p., 14 Apr. 2016. Web.

Ouellette, Jennifer. “Meet the Forgotten ‘Rocket Girls’ Who Helped NASA Reach the Stars .” Gizmodo. Gawker Media, 07 Apr. 2016. Web.

Atkinson, Joe. “From Computers to Leaders: Women at NASA Langley.” NASA. NASA, 24 Aug. 2015. Web.

 

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Filed under American Culture, American History, Books, Uncategorized

Helming Thanksgiving dinner in England

By: Danielle Prostrollo

During my 2 years in England I have attempted a “Thanksgiving for Two” one year and the other year I completely ignored the holiday (which was pretty depressing – I love Thanksgiving).  This year I am making Thanksgiving dinner for my adoptive family (my friends and boyfriend).  There is something daunting about not only taking the helm of the kitchen, but of teaching my English friends why green bean casserole and cranberry relish are so important to modern America.

In an effort to introduce my English family to Thanksgiving I have decided to take things back to basics.  Grandma Prostrollo’s corn recipe, Aunt Effie’s dinner rolls, and a fried turkey can wait until next year – this year Thanksgiving dinner is coming straight from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book – the gold standard in American homes for over 75 years.

The pared-down dinner will include:
Roasted turkey breast*
Old fashioned stuffing
Cranberry sauce (admittedly I’m going to buy this – fresh cranberries are hard to come by as of yet)
Brown sugar glazed carrots
Green bean casserole*
Mashed potatoes (I’m going to take this one by intuition!)
Gravy (This might actually come from a package, I’m not confident in a turkey breast’s abilities to render enough juice)
Parker House rolls
Pumpkin pie (with homemade whipped cream, of course)

*Cookbook and online recipes don’t match up perfectly but they’re close!

My hope for dinner this week is to introduce my friends to an American tradition which may, on the surface, look a lot like a puffed-up Sunday roast.  For me Thanksgiving is a chance to be amongst friends and family and to hopefully forget everything else that demands my time and energy while eating good food with good people and I feel very grateful for the chance to do it.

So, to all my friends and family (especially those I’ve yet to meet) – Happy Thanksgiving!

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Filed under American Culture, american food