Monthly Archives: April 2011

What Does The Easter Bunny Have To Do With The Resurrection Of Christ?

Like any Christian or Catholic would agree, Easter is a day of attending Sunday morning mass, getting together with family, having dinner at a preferably earlier time than usual, indulging in lots of candy and hollowed out milk chocolate Easter bunnies that the “Easter Bunny” left in a basket, and of course, to top off the festivities, participating in an Easter egg hunt comprised of hidden hardboiled eggs that were dyed with food coloring just a day or two beforehand.

There are even mass Easter egg hunts held for children in certain neighborhoods around New York City. Easter is supposed to be the central feast in the Christian liturgical year. Christians believe that Easter marks the day that Jesus Christ was resurrected after spending three days in his tomb.

In the Christian/Catholic world Easter is supposed to be one of the most holiest days of the year and I really don’t see much religious tradition that goes into Easter besides waking up a little earlier to attend Sunday morning mass. The resurrection of Jesus Christ seems to get overshadowed by American icons like the Easter Bunny and classic holiday materials like the Easter bonnet.

Dying Easter eggs is more of a tradition than actually reflecting on the death and resurrection of Christ. But I guess the same sort of analogy can be made for Christmas, an equally epic day on the Christian calendar that commemorates the birth of Christ. On Christmas, the birth of Christ gets overshadowed with figures like Santa Claus, traditions of putting up a decorated tree, and the joy of giving and receiving presents. Christians and Catholics take the meanings of these sacred holidays very seriously, but it doesn’t show at all through the way these holidays are celebrated. There are probably tons of Christians and Catholics that only attend mass on the day these holidays occur on as opposed to all-year round – I like to call those types of people “commercial” Christians and Catholics.

Maybe I’m coming down too hard on these different sects of religions, but coming from a Catholic-Italian family, I think have the right to make these observations. Even though the forty days of Lent is preparation for the commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, the true reasons for the existence of holidays like Easter and Christmas are usually never embraced outside of the classic holiday mass.

On the other hand, the eight-day festival of Passover that commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt is celebrated with strict religious tradition, value, and discipline. Passover is one of the best-known Jewish holidays and the Jewish people take the history behind Passover very seriously and it shows. The first and last days of the holiday are the days in which no work is permitted. On the first two nights of Passover a significant meal is held called a Seder. The Passover Seder is a ritual banquet, which reenacts the Exodus. Unlike Christian and Catholic traditions on holidays like Easter, everything that Passover represents is essentially brought to the dinner table of a Jewish family.

But, hey, apparently Christians do give meaning to famed Easter traditions like the Easter egg. The egg is supposed to represent a symbol for new life and resurrection.

Wayne Barrett: One of New York’s Best Investigative Journalists

The New York Times profile on Wayne Barrett gave me the perception that Barrett is a serious journalist who means business.

His dedication to the journalistic work he does is astounding. It’s almost as if he never takes a break. It’s apparent that he lives and breathes journalism and it’s also inspiring to see someone be that passionate about his or her work. Some people don’t let their work interfere with their personal life, but Barrett is different. The line between Barrett’s work life and his personal life is practically invisible, which, in my opinion, is a good thing and a bad thing.

I consider myself dedicated to all the work that I do, but I still need time away from writing articles, researching, and interviewing people. I still need some time to actually live. For Barrett, hounding New York City’s chief executives for over three decades is his version of living.

I never heard of Wayne Barrett before reading the Times’ profile on him, but after reading an excerpt from his book, Rudy: An Investigative Biography, and his Village Voice article on Governor Andrew Cuomo, it only solidified everything I read him about him in the Times piece. Just from reading his investigative pieces, one can tell why he has come to be known as one of New York’s best political journalists. You can also tell that this man spends a lot of time digging deep through the archives in order to find out the very explicit information he presents in his writing.

Barrett reminds me of a modern-day muckraker who gets his kick from 20th century investigative journalists like Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, and Upton Sinclair. It comforts me to know that there are journalists out there like Barrett who care about common citizen and who make it his business to weed out political corruption in New York City. The work that Barrett does is certainly not easy and I can see why it consumes most of his life. He has totally immersed himself in the political lives of New York City figures such as, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Rudy Giuliani, and Edward Koch.

Properly executing investigative work on chief politicians takes a lot of research, time, and patience. The work Barrett did on Giuliani in his book really impressed me. He depicted Giuliani as a mayor who falsifies statistics, who fails to address key issues, and who gives in to political cronies, all while maintaining the illusion of pure honesty. Barrett facts backing all this up are so precise and so clearly well written. You can tell that he was knee-deep in files and archives in order to gather all of the information that he presented in his book.

On a more personal note, Barrett seems like a type of guy who will never give up on his work. According to the Times profile on him, he didn’t even seem that discouraged when got let go from the Village Voice because he knew that he had plenty of ideas and he was confident that they would strike other publications – and they have.

I don’t find it coincidental that at an earlier age Barrett desired to become a priest. The life of a priest and the life that Barrett has been living for the past 37 years take extreme dedication, drive, and patience. Even though Barrett appears to be a pretty stubborn guy who only likes things done is way; I’ve come to admire him and his strong work ethic.

The Budget Negotiations Resulted In “Winners” and “Losers”

Our government could shutdown? That was the only thing on my mind last week when newscasters began their hundred hour-long countdown until our government could have possibly shut down. Maybe I’m just ignorant on the matter, but I didn’t even know a government shutdown was in the cards for a plausible solution. The media definitely found a way to extensively cover the budget negotiations in Washington D.C and the potential government shutdown if no compromise was reached.

It’s so comical how a last minute agreement was made, but yet the media had everybody on the edge of their seats counting down the hours until the government could possibly shut down. It felt like Y2K or something. But I guess that’s what good television is right? The anticipation of news is always going to prevail and that is what keeps people hooked. I think that the media outlets definitely blew this situation out of proportion and even had America in fear while covering the budget talks. A government shutdown would be the last thing this country needs. Last week all I kept hearing from the different media outlets in passing was that it was inevitable that the government would shut down on Friday night. The media coverage was practically like a countdown for New Years. Americans were actually watching the seconds go by in anticipation and fear of the government shutdown. But at the last minute an agreement was reached. I honestly still don’t understand how our federal government got to the point of a potential shutdown over a dispute of .19 percent of the budget. What is this country coming to?

After the agreement was finally reached all anyone kept hearing from the various media outlets was the question of who came out on top regarding the budget negotiations, which I thought was completely irrelevant, which leads me to my next point. A New York Post editorial on the matter began with the sentence: “So who really won the budget battle?” Why is this a relevant question for so many newscasters and reporters to be concerning themselves with? Why must this country always peg winners and losers in every situation that occurs? Maybe it’s because Americans are all so categorical. If the answer is not packaged in a neat little box with it’s name on it, we aren’t going to be able to understand it. This New York Post editorial is a perfect example of the media’s obsession this week with who won and lost politically in the budget negotiations. Apparently both Republicans and Democrats are claiming victory as to who exactly came out on top in the aftermath of the budget negotiations. Instead of writing about who won and who lost, how about someone writes about how this result affects the American citizens. After the negotiation was made the media basically just focused on winners and losers and not the effects of the results, which I just don’t really understand. Why is this relevant? Maybe someone could explain this to me, because I certainly am not following.

An Evolving Artform


Frank Deburdg was tattooed by Samuel O' Reilly at his Bowery studio (source:


It’s amazing to see how the transformation of tattooing has integrated itself so deeply into American culture since its birth in New York City in 1846.

In 1936 a December issue of Life Magazine revealed that one out of every ten persons in the U.S was tattooed in whole or in part, which translated to about 10 million Americans or 6 percent of the population. This article also revealed that during 1936 there were only about 60 established tattoo artists throughout all of the United States. Today, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene there are currently approximately 1,900 licensed tattoo artists in New York City alone. According to a 2006 survey conducted by Pew Research, 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 26 and 40 have at least one tattoo and 36 percent of those between the ages of 18 to 25 reports having a tattoo. A report by the Food and Drug Administration estimated that as many as 45 million Americans currently have tattoos.

The birth of tattooing and a German immigrant named Martin Hildebrant go hand in hand. In 1846 Hildebrant set up New York’s first tattoo shop on Oak Street in lower Manhattan. Another man liable for the integration of tattooing into American society is a New Yorker named Samuel O’ Reilly who opened up a tattoo shop at 11 Chatham Square in the Chinatown area of the Bowery in 1875. During this time, the tattooing that men like Hildebrant and O’ Reilly did was done by hand. The tattooing instrument used by these men was a set of needles attached to a wooden handle. The tattoo artists would dip these needles in ink and move their hand rhythmically up and down, puncturing the skin two to three times per second. Tattooing by hand was an extremely slow practice that took years of experience to perfect, even for the greatest tattoo artists of that time.

This manual way of tattooing all changed when O’ Reilly revolutionized tattooing in 1891 with his invention of the first electric

Samuel O' Reilly's patent drawing for his tattoo machine (source:

tattoo machine, which was a modification of Thomas Edison’s perforating pen. This invention transformed tattooing into a quicker, more attractive process even though the pain one goes through to get a tattoo will never dissipate. Modern tattoo machines today puncture the skin between 50 to 3,000 times per minute. The needle penetrates the skin by a millimeter and deposits a drop of ink into the skin with each puncture. It sounds like a grueling process, I know, but that doesn’t stop anyone who truly wants a tattoo. It didn’t stop me, even though I was biting holes into the collar of my shirt to ease the pain during a four hour long tattoo on my ribcage.

There are many New Yorkers just like me who wait until their 18th birthday comes along, because that is the legal age to get tattooed in New York City and many other places throughout the U.S as well. According to a U.S News and World Report article there are an estimated 20,000 tattoo parlors operating in the United States, with new parlors opening up everyday. This exemplifies how the popularity of tattooing has grown compared to the 1930’s when there were only about 60 tattoo artists throughout the entire country.

Brooklyn College Offers Free Peer Tutoring

Brooklyn College's Learning Center located at 1300 Boylan Hall

What many Brooklyn College students don’t know is that there is a Learning Center located at 1300 Boylan Hall, representing the culmination of a 30-year effort on the part of Brooklyn College.

Although the Learning Center is visible from the central entrance of Boylan Hall, many students tend to miss it, which is unfortunate because the Learning Center is one of the campus-wide academic assets that offers free peer tutoring and general advice on coursework across the curriculum. The Center is also stocked with computers and useful reference materials.

The Learning Center is a vast space that can accommodate up to 200 students at once. The Center provides one-on-one or group hour-long sessions of tutoring in writing, ESL (English as a second language), core courses, and dozens of other courses including foreign languages, mathematics, economics, and accounting.

“We have an ever-expanding ESL population at this school, which I tell everyone is a complete misnomer because English really is not the second language for a lot of these students, it’s their third or forth in some cases and they have the biggest obstacles to overcome, obviously. But because they have those obstacles, it also seems to make them work harder,” said John Cottrell, one of the several Master Tutors at the Learning Center, who basically oversees everything relevant during tutoring sessions.

“We [the Master Tutors] do a lot of paper chasing, in a sense, and public relations, if you will, for lack of a better term,” he said. Sometimes the Master Tutors even fill in for the regular tutors if they are absent.

The Learning Center typically carries out 14,000 tutoring sessions involving 3,000 students every year and a study of the Learning Center found that these students remain in college longer, pass standardized test more quickly, and achieve a higher grade point average than non-users.

Most of the workforce at the Learning Center is made up of students, both undergraduate and graduate, who have excelled in the respective subjects that they tutor in. Tutors must maintain a 3.5 GPA or higher in order to tutor in their respective subjects. Other tutors are also adjuncts, retirees, and even volunteers, who have been recommended by one of their professors.

Core tutors will either work with students one-on-one or in groups during scheduled hours, but the writing tutors strictly work with students one-on-one in order to brainstorm for a paper or work with a student to develop a concrete thesis statement. In order to see a writing tutor, it is best to schedule an appointment because walk-ins are not always guaranteed a session.

Under the latest director of the Learning Center, Richard Vento, new modifications have been made to the Center for the better.

John Cottrell works as a Master Tutor at the Learning Center

“To Rich’s credit, he can just come in and rearrange everything immediately,” said Cottrell.

Last year I worked as a volunteer tutor in writing at the Learning Center under Master Tutor John Cottrell, so I’ve experienced first hand what the environment of the Learning Center is like. It’s a useful resource and the tutors at the Learning Center are there to help, not to judge.

In my experience as a tutor, I’ve found that students often think that they can sit back for an hour and relax, while the tutor edits and further develops his or her paper, which is definitely not the how a tutoring session is supposed to go. The more a student puts in to a session, the more he or she is going to get out of the session. “I think the students who use the Learning Center to their advantage definitely benefit from it,” said Cottrell. Here are some useful tips I have devised in order to get the most out of your tutoring session experience.

If you want to inquire about the Learning Center, it’s open Monday through Thursday 10 AM to 7 PM and Friday 10 AM to 3 PM.

There May Be Hope For the Transformation of America’s Food System

There may be hope for the agricultural food movement after all. There have been more raised concerns with the way America eats aside from all the independent documentaries such as Food Inc, Michael Pollan books, “Slow Food” advocates, local food cooperatives, local farmers, and Whole Foods markets combined.

Our first lady, Michelle Obama is a strong advocate for providing fresh, unprocessed, and locally grown food to families in the underserved communities. Even in her first few weeks in the White House, Michelle Obama emerged as a supporter for healthy food and healthy living. It is evident that fresh, organic food as a right for all is a significant item on Michelle Obama’s agenda, especially due to the growing obesity epidemic across the nation. In a speech at the Department of Agriculture in February, Michelle Obama described herself as “a big believer” in community gardens that provide “fresh fruits and vegetables for so many communities across this nation and the world,” which sounds like something one of the Slow Food members would say. Although it’s Michelle Obama who is getting all the press for good health advocacy, it was Mayor Michael Bloomberg who banned trans fats and forced fast-food chains to post clear and visible calorie counts.

America’s industrial food system has posed itself as a primary concern not only for advocates, but also for general parents who send their children to public school. The government spends millions of dollars each year to buy food for students and finally people are starting to wake up and they realize that this food should at least be healthy. The Slow Food movement is concerned with beginning with children first because there is a high rate of children developing obesity. Six or seven years ago the Department of Education began to get serious about transforming the school’s food system into a more healthy food system with the introduction of whole-grain pasta, salad bars, fresh fruit, and low-fat and low-sodium recipes.

But the argument I keep reading and hearing from opposing view points is that organic agriculture will not be able to feed the world’s citizens, however members of the global Slow Food movement truly believe that it is a possibly to change America’s current industrial food system. An Increasing number of scientists, policy panels and experts have suggested that agricultural practices pretty close to organic or “sustainable” will be able to feed more poor people sooner and repair the destruction caused by industrial production.

From just exploring my beat, I’ve discovered that a sustainable food system is the ideal food system. When I talk to Slow Food advocates, local farmers, and food purveyors, a sustainable food system seems so easy – eating locally and purchasing food from your local farmer seems so easy, so how come everyone doesn’t do it? For one it’s the cost factor. Eating organic and locally is just more expensive than eating processed foods with ingredients that are unknown and unpronounceable, but why? When did America’s food system get to the point that eating healthy just isn’t applicable to poor and lower middle class citizens?

From browsing through the Carroll Gardens Greenmarket and speaking with the New York City Greenmarket manager, I’ve come to learn that most of these farmers selling their good around New York City are coming from 2nd to 3rd generation family farms. My concern is what is going to happen when these farmers retire? Are there young people learning the skills of a farmer? Carol Dacey, the New York City Slow Food co-chair said, “Without the farmers you don’t have food,” and that statement raised some personal concerns for me. Before attempting this beat, I’ve never even thought about food the way I do now. I never focused or thought about what it means to eat locally, sustainably, and organically. I never thought about the fact that when you eat locally and purchase your foods from your local farmer you are actually helping in order to better your local economy.

In regards to what I feel I am missing, it is the government policies having to do with all these food factors I have previously mentioned. I know what Michelle Obama’s position is on healthy living, but I don’t know the actual policies that are set up, if any. I also think it is important to find out how younger people are getting involved in the business of farming if they weren’t raised in it. I don’t know exact numbers, but just from what I’ve read and seen there is definitely a decline in the number of farmers.