Friday, August 27, 2010


"I AM NEW ORLEANS" by Vince Vance (c)2009

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Racial issues have been front and center lately. A quick recap: Mel Gibson, Shirley Sherrod, Barack Obama, Andrew Breitbart – aahhhh, the memories. But the woman of the hour right now is Dr. Laura Schlessinger, radio talk show host, who thankfully announced the end of her radio career this week on Larry King. It all started when she, of the “tough love” advice radio format, recently lambasted a caller who sought advice on a racial problem in her own family. Listen:

First things first. Dr. Laura, as she is known, has a Ph.D in physiology from Columbia University. Respectable – some might even say impressive. But how a physiologist got herself an audience of about nine million listeners who tune in to hear her advice on love, life, career, family, etc., is anybody’s guess. Over the years, Schlessinger has consistently made outrageous, judgmental, arrogant statements that angered some and invigorated others. After Rush Limbaugh (approx. 20 million listeners) and Sean Hannity (12 million), Schlessinger has often tied for third place in Arbitron radio ratings with the likes of Glenn Beck. Schlessinger is a provocateur with few scruples, and a topical opportunist. Not long ago her listener base was estimated at 10 million, and that loss of about a million has to be weighing heavily on her tightly-coiffed head. It was predictable that she would pull something like you just heard, but disturbing just the same.

Just days after her ridiculous tirade, and after a half-baked on-air apology, Schlessinger no doubt saw the writing on the wall and said this:

Schlessinger is positioning herself as a victim of an overly predatory culture that preaches political correctness, when the truth is that she is a product of social change growing pains. The culture has decided that racist rhetoric is not acceptable any more. It has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It has to do with respect for all human beings, and the recognition of the responsibility that comes with the First Amendment. One cannot lean on the Constitution to support racial prejudice. Moreover, one cannot lean on the constitution to whitewash her imminent dismissal from the airwaves. I suspect the Talk Radio Network saw the immediate loss of sponsors and decided Schlessinger had become a liability. She knew that and had to put a spin on the situation that would allow her to leave with dignity.

Fortunately, the public is smarter than that, and we know what happened to other public figures when they cavalierly dismissed entire segments of the population.
Schlessinger’s personal and professional history does not inspire confidence. Here’s some juicy Dr. Laura stuff: In the 1970s she proclaimed her feminist self, but by turn of the century, she was anti-feminism. In the 1990s she went through the arduous process of converting to Orthodox Judaism, but by 2004 she announced she was no longer an Orthodox Jew and was having a tough time “connecting with God.” You may recall the hoopla about her mother’s death, when it was revealed her mother’s body was found in her condo, after having been dead for about two months. Schlessinger’s public response was typified by this statement: "I'm horrified by the tragic circumstances of my mother's death, and so sad to learn that she died as she chose to live -- alone and isolated.” (One wonders if her mother “chose” for her body to remain unfound for two months). In the late 1990s, Schlessinger, who was increasingly positioning herself as a pillar of virtue, was shocked when nude photos of her popped up on the Internet. A longtime-advocate of monogamy and faithfulness in marriage, it is common knowledge that the good doc had an affair with a married man, while she was still married to her first husband. A few years ago she told her listeners that men need a lot of sex, so women should “put out on demand” even if they don’t feel like it. As for her views on homosexuality, Schlessinger calls it a “biological error” and contrary to holy scripture. She also said that homosexuality is all about “pedophilia and the bestiality and the sadomasochism.”

Worst of all is what she said on her radio show about the death of young Matthew Shepard, who was murdered by two men who tortured, beat and tied him to a fence and left him to die in 1998. Dr. Laura: “If Matthew hadn’t been willing to leave [a bar] for sex, he might still be alive. That certainly doesn’t make him responsible for his own death but when you put yourself into a situation of going off to have anonymous sex with people you meet at a bar, what kind of person is gonna leave with you? Usually scum.... This was a terrible tragedy but it’s also one that might have been avoided if he had simply gone home with his friends instead of thinking he was gonna get a little."

For a long time, Schlessinger’s outrageous behavior and on-air comments were the stuff of media gold. She was widely talked and written about, and up until the early 2000’s she was still receiving awards for something or other. But that was then.

Now, Laura is treading water, at best. Harken to Don Imus,(below, left) who was at the top of his game when he made racist comments on his own show. Imus is back on the radio, but teetering on oblivion. At the time, Schlessinger wrote this on her blog about Imus: “"His remark was insulting, stupid, mean and ugly. It was so seemingly 'off-the-cuff' that it felt too casually familiar a thing for him to say." Laura should have thought of that before she made her recent comments, huh? On Monday, August 16, GLAAD, the Women's Media Center and Unity Journalists of Color all encouraged her advertisers to abandon her.

On Tuesday, August 17, Marc Morial, former mayor of New Orleans and currently head of the Urban League, called on the Talk Radio Network to drop Schlessinger’s syndicated radio show. Watchdog group “Media Matters” issued this statement: “It's clear the airwaves are no place for Dr. Laura's hate speech. By choosing to sponsor her, Dr. Laura's advertisers are not only funding her offensive radio show, but are implicitly endorsing its content."

So, Dr. Laura, since you chose not to think before you spoke, I choose to thoughtfully respond to your racist tirade this way. We humans (black and white and other colors) are trying to evolve the word “nigger” out of the language. Every time a public figure like you decides to say the word to a large audience, we are shot back several giant steps. The word “nigger” is a symbol of reducing another human being or group of human beings to their lowest common denominator. You are not in a position to do so. The airwaves you use are offered to you as a privilege, not as a basic right. Other public figures (Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, Don Imus, etc.) have been relegated to public humiliation and shame for doing just what you did. Since you, in your persona as Dr. Laura, choose to give advice to the masses, I will more humbly, as self-appointed Dr. Paul, choose to give my advice to just one person – you:

Dr. Laura, you should have used your position to lift the national conversation to a better place. You were in a position to flood the airwaves with smart rhetoric about issues that concern us, in a way that will add something constructive to the mix of ideas. You are a million listeners down from last year at this time because your words are damaging and hurtful to millions of people. You are underestimating the American public: We are smarter and more progressive in our thinking than you think. We will not rally behind a radio talk show host who dismisses an entire race of Americans. Feel that ice getting thinner under your well-pedicured feet? That’s the feeling of smart, forward-thinking Americans tuning you out. You can go quietly or we can digitally dismiss you, and it appears we just did.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

KATRINA Five Years On...

Music by Bruce Springsteen - "My City of Ruins"

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Hey, did you hear the one about the flight attendant who got into an argument with a passenger who stood up while the Jet Blue airliner was still taxiing at JFK? Yeah, and then the passenger opens the overhead compartment and it hits the flight attendant in the head. Wait, wait…it gets better…the flight attendant gets on the P.A. system, tells all the passengers to go fuck themselves, engages the emergency slide, grabs some beers and slides down to the tarmac. Do you love it?

The story hits the evening newscasts, goes national, and suddenly flight attendant Steven Slater is a new American hero. Sort of a twisted modern-day Horatio Alger. People are talking about him all over the Internet, on Facebook, everywhere you can think of, and most of the comments are singing his praises. What is going on here? Slater was later arrested at his house, charged with a few felonies, but curiously, his bail was set at a measly $2500. How does a guy who has been a flight attendant since 1994 suddenly reach the breaking point and slide away? High drama, you might say, but something tells me a move like that only comes after something has been boiling inside of him for a long, long time. Hey, work with the public for a while and see if you don’t want to slide away.

The hard truth is that a LOT of American workers hate their jobs. How many? Well, in January the AP published poll results that indicated only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their work. The numbers tell the story. Only 56 percent like their co-workers and only 51 percent like their boss. I once had a co-worker who talked incessantly and who ended every single sentence that came out of her mouth with the phrase, “You know what I’m sayin’?” I had fantasies of standing on top of my desk, in my cubicle and screaming, “Yes, goddammit, we know what you’re saying. We get it. Shut up. Die.” I didn’t. I should have Steve Slatered her.

Steven is this year’s poster kid for job dissatisfaction, but how deep does it run in our culture, and how many
of us feel we are wasting our precious time? How many of us are harboring escapist thoughts, or worse, hatching plans to set off the sprinkler system or slip some ecstasy into the boss’s morning coffee? That brings us to

The stated purpose of the web site is: “Since drinking at work is no longer socially acceptable – except on AMC – is here to get you through the hellish work day. Post your gripe or join the chorus – let the world know you are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. The Man might be saying “let them eat cake” in the break room every friggin' day someone has a birthday, but we are starting a new revolution and our rally cry is Please Fire Me.”

Apparently a LOT of people would rather be fired than endure another hour of occupational torture. There are so far 71 pages of comments on the site, each with its own brand of desperation. The comments range from “Please fire me. My boss just typed “google” into the Google search bar,” to “Please fire me. My boss called me a “fucking idiot” and waved a loaded buffalo rifle at my stomach.” And then there’s this: “Please fire me. The woman in the office next to me groans like she’s having an orgasm every few minutes.” And, my personal favorite: “Please fire me. A gay, black, holocaust denier who thinks Hitler was misunderstood is my new “manager”.

The truth is that we spend an inordinate number of hours in our lives working. And if we build up that “hate my job account” inside of ourselves, we’re going to blow like Steve Slater. Or worse. You’ve seen those stories about people going all postal at their places of employment and blowing their co-workers away. Maybe you know the feeling. I’m fortunate in that I do not hate my job, but I used to have jobs that I really hated. Once I had a female boss who cussed a lot and blew cigarette smoke in my face and told me not to be a whiny baby. I swear. When I finally went to her office to resign, I told her I would stay three weeks to make sure everything was in order before I left. Her response? “Well, I guess I should thank you for that. You could have f__ked me in the ass on this one.” I’m telling the truth. Kathy V., you know who you are. And anybody who worked at a hotel in New Orleans in the 1980s that starts with a W and ends in estin knows who I mean, too. What a lady.

I have long since changed careers and found job satisfaction, and I do not take it for granted. The prison-like environment of a job that you hate can push you to the brink. Or worse. Just this past week a man who worked for a beer distributor in Hartford, CT, killed eight co-workers and then himself. Evidently, he too hated his job, and felt the workplace was racist. Omar Thornton had been asked to resign earlier that day.

It brings to mind the vacuous statement, “It’s not personal; it’s business.” Of course it’s personal. It is all personal. Steve Slater was in an interpersonal altercation when he decided to take a slide down to unemployment. And Omar was probably on fire inside. People were reportedly leaving graffiti in the men’s room, pictures of a noose, with the words, “Kill the nigger.” Does it get any more personal than that?

Steve Slater is an instant folk hero with the same message as the fictional Howard Beale in the 1976 film, “Network.” Beale,(left, played by Peter Finch) you will recall, opened the window, stuck his head out and bellowed, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” Just like Slater was mad as hell. Sixteen years of waiting on people inside a sealed tube, 30,000 feet up could do that to a man. And Beale, a creation of master-writer Paddy Chayefsky threatens to kill himself on live TV, just after he is fired. Just like Omar Thornton did away with himself, just after being let go. It’s personal.

Meanwhile, over at Facebook, (the 21st century town square), the crowd is roaring about Steve Slater. No less than six pages have been established about and for him. One of them is titled, “What Would Steve Slater Do?” Its stated purpose: “WWSSD is a place for people to discuss stresses of our workplace in a safe environment. We would like to show our gratitude to the one person who actually did what we all dream about.”

Wow. Just wow.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Your culture is shifting – can you feel it? If you feel vaguely uncomfortable, apprehensive and possibly even scared, you are not alone. Right now, major shifts in the American culture have everything to do with inclusiveness and exclusiveness. We are moving toward including the homosexual segment of our population, as we move closer to excluding our immigrant population. Ying, Yang. Push, Pull. Aahhh, ouch. Feel it?

I will save the immigrant portion of this topic for another day, but today let’s talk same-sex marriage. It is front burner now. You know that. It has been inching toward the front of our collective consciousness for a very long time now, but U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker just gave it the necessary impetus to speed itself up. Republican-appointed Judge Walker, on August 4, 2010, ruled that California’s controversial Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, in spite of the millions of Californians that voted otherwise in 2008. Proposition 8, you will recall, was a measure that made same-sex marriage illegal in California. Widely seen as precedent setting in the U.S., Prop 8 has given talking heads material for years now, and threatened to deny millions of Americans their constitutional rights.

In his ruling, Judge Walker (below, left)wisely and sensibly wrote this: “Moral disapproval, without any other asserted state interest, has never been a rational basis for legislation.” (Page 133). He also made the inevitable comparison to our country’s mid-20th century struggle with inter-racial marriage. He wrote: “Race restrictions on marital partners were once common in most states but are now seen as archaic, shameful or even bizarre. When the Supreme Court invalidated race restrictions in Loving, the definition of the right to marry did not change. Instead, the Court recognized that race restrictions, despite their historical prevalence, stood in stark contrast to the concepts of liberty and choice inherent in the right to marry.” (Page 114)

When Walker refers to ‘Loving,’ he is referencing the landmark case Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 Supreme Court decision that invalidated the 1924 Racial Integrity Act that outlawed interracial marriage. The plaintiffs in the 1967 case were Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who married in Virginia and were subject to criminal prosecution under the Racial Integrity Act. Watch:

Now, 43 years later, similar dynamics are showing up in the struggle to legalize same-sex marriage in America. You might think we had settled this equal rights dilemma all those years ago, but clearly we did not. Somehow, because two people with the same reproductive organs fall in love, America has collectively decided to disenfranchise gay people. How do you feel about that? Do you feel that you, as a citizen, have the right to deprive other citizens of their rights because of their sexual preference? Are your rights as a citizen in any way tied to your sexual organs? Let’s carry that just a step further: What if your rights as a citizen were challenged based on some things that you have done sexually in your life? Think back, real hard now. What if, all of a sudden, your citizenship was challenged because you had sex with someone other than your spouse? Or what if you were no longer allowed to visit your spouse in the hospital because of that one time you had sex with a prostitute? Or wait, what about this? What if you were turned down for military service because you like three-ways?

The very noisy objections of the anti-gay marriage movement are typified by one Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, a right-wing Christian group dedicated to conservative policies. Perkins has been vocal in his staunch objections to all things homosexual. I like to think of Perkins’ group as Anita Bryant on acid. But that’s just me. Listen to what Perkins had to say about Judge Vaughn’s ruling:

You and I both know that 50 years from now we will look back on this the same way we look back on Loving v. Virginia. As I said earlier, you can feel the culture shifting right now. Even 10 years ago it was unheard of for some major corporations to extend employee benefits to the partners of gay employees, but now it is almost de rigueur. The idea of two men or two women adopting a child was not even considered just a few years ago, and now there are thousands of such families. The thought of making it legal for openly gay men and women to serve in the military was not even up for discussion not long ago, and now we are on the cusp of repealing the discriminatory, ill-conceived “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. It is happening, albeit perhaps not as swiftly as some citizens prefer.

In America, social change happens at a snail’s pace. When it does happen, as dictated by the judicial system, there is an inevitable backlash from those who cling to tradition, even if that tradition is flawed and discriminatory. In the end, when social change focuses on marriage, as it did with the Lovings, love trumps politics, history and prejudice. That will certainly happen again, but this time the recipients of equal rights will be gay Americans. That could include your sister, or your uncle, or your boss, or your best friend or your son’s best friend, or your pre-school teacher or…well, fill in the blank. These individuals are not anomalies. Rather, they are your fellow citizens.

Judge Vaughn’s ruling is not a radical move. Instead, it is an effort to extend equal protection under the law to all citizens. It is not an effort to change the law, but rather one to enforce existing law. The 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly states that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” With that very simple statement in mind, Vaughn wrote the following in his ruling:
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”
That says to me that the only way gay Americans can be prohibited from marrying other gay Americans is by amending the existing U.S. constitution. Since that is unlikely to happen in our lifetime, I suggest you break out your tux, or your party dress and get yourself to the church on time. There are wedding bells about to ring coast to coast and surely you won’t want to miss the fun.