Saturday, November 20, 2010


Sometimes big heroes come in small packages. Consider Graeme Taylor, age 14. In tiny Howell, Michigan (population less than 10,000), a teacher banned a student from his classroom for a full day when the student made insulting, anti-gay comments. The school, in turn, suspended the teacher, Jay McDowell, without pay for a full day. Outraged by this news, young Taylor attended a school board meeting and spoke up for McDowell. Taylor is not a student at the school, and only spoke at the meeting because of his strong feelings about what happened in that classroom. Whether you agree with McDowell's actions or not, do what I did: take one minute and 48 seconds to listen and learn from a wise 14-year-old:

Friday, November 19, 2010


I never imagined I could find myself in full agreement with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) about anything. After all, many sources agree that Paul has the most conservative voting record of any member of Congress since 1937. This is the guy who once opined that “95 percent of black males in [Washington, D.C.] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.” Oy. But this week, Paul stepped up, I must admit. He introduced H.R. 6416: The American Traveler Dignity Act in Congress, which essentially would bar TSA agents from touching your junk when you go through airport security. Paul said, "My legislation is simple. It establishes that airport security screeners are not immune from any US law regarding physical contact with another person, making images of another person, or causing physical harm through the use of radiation-emitting machinery on another person. It means they are subject to the same laws as the rest of us."

Paul’s bill comes in response to the new equipment and “enhanced pat-down” methods that the TSA has instituted in airports coast to coast. (In high school we used to just call it “feeling somebody up.”) Your choice now is go through a body scanner that shows a clear outline of your entire body, including your genitalia, or opt out and receive a pat down that includes the closest thing to a prostate exam ever done in public. Reports indicate that lawsuits against the TSA are mounting, just as the pilots union has come out encouraging pilots to opt out, just so they can cause gridlock in the security lines that would then perhaps force the TSA to relent on these ridiculous techniques. Can somebody tell me why pilots need to be checked for explosives? I mean if a pilot wants to kills us on a plane, all he has to do is turn the thing into a missile and fly us into a mountain, right? What good does it do to body scan a pilot?

Then of course there are the anecdotal incidents like the one in San Diego that made national news. If you are one of the three people who hasn’t heard this story, it seems a California man refused the body scan and then told the agent, “If you touch my junk I’m gonna have you arrested.” Then there’s the cancer survivor flight attendant who was forced to remove her prosthetic breast during an enhanced pat-down.

The TSA’s published salary information for airport security screening personnel runs between $10.58 and $15.77/hour. So, we have people touching our junk who are almost on the poverty level by today’s standards. You can get this job if you have a high school diploma, pass a drug test and a background check. You may feel free to call me a snob if it makes you feel better, but just this qualification profile and educational standard alone causes me some concern. Who exactly is this person feeling my body in places usually reserved for sex partners or doctors? Are they enjoying it? I so don’t want them to be enjoying it.

The good news? This is a non-partisan issue. No politics necessary here. It doesn’t matter if you’re Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow, John Boehner or Barbara Boxer. This is an issue of privacy, ownership of our own bodies and governmental intrusion on the most extreme level. The groundswell of protest over these new procedures is simply the collective voice of the American people saying, “I will decide who touches me, and the TSA agent is not on my list.”

A New Orleans radio talk show host said yesterday morning that what this amounts to is simply that the terrorists have now won. They wanted to scare us into some sort of chaotic anarchy, and they have succeeded. Terrorists wanted to reduce us to sniveling fraidy cats, and that is just what they have done on the most humiliating level. A few ignorant extremists made it onto airplanes with explosives in their shoes and their underwear and now we are expected – by our own government, no less – to be publicly humiliated on our way to see grandma in Iowa. Even grandma in Iowa is subject to the assaultive screenings and pat downs if she travels our way. Really. In Corpus Christi it is reported that an 87-year-old woman in a wheel chair was body searched. A television reporter’s 3-year-old daughter was traumatized by an extensive pat-down.

Where does this lead us? Who’s next on the list of workers who can examine our bodies? How about the cop who stops us for speeding? Does he or she get a little stroke? And what about the people who take our tickets when we enter a football stadium? Do they get to take a little pinch and tickle? All I can say is that if you are planning to fly on November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, you may want to have a little extra Scotch or pop a Valium before you go to the airport. It’s National Opt-Out Day, and that means the throngs of holiday travelers are being encouraged not to allow the security people to put them in a body screener. That means lots and lots of time-consuming pat downs, which probably means long lines and delayed flights.

And all because some idiot put a bomb in his underwear and another idiot with a modicum of power in Washington, D.C. over-reacted.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Consider: The world’s most prestigious awards and prizes are bestowed upon the most creative individuals among us. Everything from the Academy Award to the Nobel Peace Prize is rooted in the creative spirit. So, along comes Tina Fey, whose own spirit has insinuated itself into improv, TV and movies, until ultimately she came to the realization that her true gift is writing. Last week, in a lavish evening at Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Tina Fey was awarded the highest honor in comedy, The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor . She is now in the good company of such geniuses as Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Lily Tomlin, Steve Martin, Neil Simon, Billy Crystal and Bob Newhart. Wow. Oh, speaking of genius, did I mention George Carlin?

Mark Twain said, “Humor is the good natured side of truth.” Maybe that is why none of us will every forget Tina Fey channeling Sarah Palin saying, “I can see Russia from my kitchen window.” Like another generation’s Elaine May and Carol Burnett, Fey gives us a window into the absurdity of what is happening right now. And she does it with such normalcy. And let’s face it – we love geniuses who don’t know they’re special. Once Fey said, “Oprah and Gayle were in my apartment, and they stayed for hours. It's like the most amazing thing that can happen to a white woman in the twenty-first century."

I think we like Tina because she embodies a new "cocktail" of qualities that work for us -- smart, hot and funny, with a dash of humility. Here now, two minutes and 17 seconds of the world according to the newest Twainee, Tina Fey:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


As is the case with many other Americans, I found myself paying more attention to the recent mid-term elections than any other mid-terms I can remember. I kept hearing Republican candidates insist that government spending was out of control, and if elected, they would make spending cuts “across the board.” So, we waited for some specifics on those across the board cuts. Would they cut entitlements? Would Social Security and Medicare take hits? Would veteran benefits be cut? Would salaries for U.S. military personnel be reduced? What? We never quite got the answers we were waiting for. Now the elections are over, and the GOP emerged victorious. As you can imagine, reporters are doggedly in pursuit of information about what will be cut. But the legislators are tap dancing around the question. Listen to Anderson Cooper fight the good fight to get Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) to get specific about planned GOP cuts. The interview starts at 1:41.

NBC’s David Gregory had similar challenges getting S. Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint to spill the beans on planned spending cuts. And Christine Amanpour didn’t get any further in her efforts with newly minted Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to ante up on where the cuts would be made. Watch:

It is bad enough that our elected officials won't come clean about their real intentions, but it gets worse. Just this week the Republican Study Committee (don't feel bad; I've never heard of it either) recommended cutting a welfare program that could save us $2.5 billion every year. Oh, but see, there was just one problem. It turns out that this particular program, called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) expired on September 30. I'm thinking the Study committee needs to go to detention. What do you think?

So…call me crazy, but it appears the GOP simply told many Americans what they wanted to hear – that the budget would be balanced (although all of us know this is not possible right now); that Social Security is safe, that Medicare is safe, that veterans are safe. Who or what is not safe? If we need to cut trillions, we can’t really do that by trimming the President’s security detail, watching out for overpriced Amtrak tickets and cutting Federal jobs, which would do nothing more than drive up unemployment. And we can't save much money by cutting programs that no longer exist. Is it just me, or were we just bamboozled by some disingenuous legislators?

Monday, November 1, 2010


Imagine this if you will: Crooner Tony Bennett sharing a stage with rocker Kid Rock, The Ojays, Cat Stevens (yes, Cat Stevens) Ozzie Osbourne Sheryl Crow, Sam Waterston and wrestler Mike Foley. Who could bring this disparate, diverse band of brothers and sisters together, but one Jon Stewart? And who else would be there to bolster the whole thing since it occurs in front of approximately 215,000 people, with the U.S. Capitol Building as a backdrop? Stephen Colbert, of course.

Stewart, in 2009, was named by TIME Magazine as the most trusted newsman in America. Not Brian Willliams (he was second), not Charles Gibson, not Katie Couric. Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart got 44 percent of the vote, with Williams a distance second at 29 percent. That being said, there were still a lot of skeptics offering up their cynical take on Stewart’s and Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the Washington Mall. Stewart, who helms Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” calls his brand of infotainment “fake news.” I beg to differ. If it were all so fake, why would actors and authors, pundits and politicians and even presidents fight the good fight to guest on his show?
Stewart is a pied piper of news, and at a time when citizens are collectively “over it,” as it relates to the current state of affairs in the U.S., Stewart is getting us to pay attention and raise our collective current events consciousness.

I was at the Stewart/Colbert Rally and I can tell you this: The people in the crowd were not there just for a good laugh. They were there to give voice to a desire for some sense of order in Washington, at a time when political candidates are dressing up in Nazi uniforms, denying their association with witchcraft, threatening to “take out” reporters who say the wrong thing, and telling rape victims to “make lemonade out of lemons” if they get raped by their own fathers. The crowd told the real story: Although largely white, there were young and old, gay and straight, able-bodied and disabled. There was not one reported incident of civil disobedience, violence or aggressive protest.

Best of all, the attendees smartly satirized the current political divisiveness with their own brand of satire. Many carried signs that said things such as “I will not tolerate lactose,” or “I’m ambivalent as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore…I don’t think,” or “I may disagree with you but I probably won’t step on your head,” or “I masturbate to Christine O’Donnell,” or "Moderate women are hot,” or “Palin/Snooki 2012!” or “God hates figs,” or “Hitler Called – he wants his hyperbole back.” And this being the day before Halloween there were costumes…men dressed as Christine O’Donnell were common. I saw a sexy illegal alien nanny, a guy wearing mirrors that said “I’m You,” lots of mama grizzlies, Ann Coulter Skeletor, Hispanic Arizonans, Uncle Samantha, a male soldier in high heels, and…well, you get the picture.

Jon Stewart enabled us to lighten up, and yet have full awareness of all that is not so light right now in our country. Grownups got to dress up, laugh, jump, dance, sing and celebrate being Americans, rather than question our dedication to our own form of government. Not until the end of the three-hour rally did Stewart get serious for a few minutes. Watch and listen to what he said:

After listening to that, you start to get the real idea of why Jon Stewart matters. Pundits and talking heads had a judgmental field day before this rally, collectively asking, “Why should we pay attention to two comedians who decide to hold a rally?” Well, that’s a valid question, but let me ask a few questions here. Would you rather listen to Stewart say things like “We live now in hard times, not end times,” or Glen Beck, who back in 2007 said, “It feels like cataclysmic events of 9/11, Katrina, tsunami, famine and the threat of global pandemic are signs we're living in the end times.” Would you rather hear Stewart say, “We can have animus and not be enemies,” or tune in to Ann Coulter saying, “Enraging liberals is simply one of the more enjoyable side effects of my wisdom.” What makes more sense – listening to Stewart’s “The inability to distinguish between terrorists and Muslims makes us less safe, not more,” or to fear-mongering political candidates that would have us believe that all Muslims are terrorists?

I’ll take Stewart. If you see the world through a lens that only distinguishes humans as conservative or liberal, I suppose you see Stewart as a liberal. Listening to him at the rally, I see him as a moderate. And if there is one thing sorely missing in our current political climate, it is moderation, or as Stewart called it, “reason.” It was energizing and encouraging to see hundreds of thousands of Americans gather without politically extremist rhetoric, without an undercurrent of hate, without a racist agenda and without boiling anger. So, if the satirical signs and costumes seem to compromise the credibility of the message, think again. At this rally, Americans regained some of their wit, their humor and their lightheartedness, while still demonstrating an awareness of the troubled state of the nation.

That troubled state may have best been summarized by one attendee whose big yellow sign said, “It’s a sad day when our politicians are comical, and I have to take our comedians seriously.” Amen to that.