Thursday, October 17, 2013

WHY JOAN RIVERS MATTERED


Let me get this out of the way up front:  I loved Joan Rivers.  I really did. I followed her career since she was on The Ed Sullivan Show -- way, way back in 1967.  Watch for yourself:
Even in that early routine you could already see what was happening. Joan Molinsky, a gutsy, irreverent fireball of a person, had invented Joan Rivers, a character she would carry with her for the next half century.  She would streamline the character’s delivery over time, and she would glamorize the exterior, but Joan Molinsky was always in charge. She ran the show. By her own admission, Joan Molinsky was a driven, goal-obsessed laser of a human being who was going to win big.  And she was going to do it via the character she invented, Joan Rivers. She would much later in her life admit publicly that she was probably absent too much as a mother, although certainly loving and devoted. And she would also admit that in her adult household, her husband and her daughter and she were always, all about “the career.”

Whether you loved Joan Rivers as so many of us did, or not, one thing is indisputable: She was a constant voice in the American culture for most of our lives. She was more than a comedienne. She was a cultural commentator. That’s what comics are, really. They chronicle what we see right in front of us, but they find a way to build joy into it. As Americans struggled to determine what brand of extremist Sarah Palin really was, Rivers alternately referred to her as “a Nazi,” or “retarded.”  As former vice-president Dick Cheney publicly touted the wonders and appropriateness of “enhanced interrogation techniques” [read: “torture”], Rivers pondered his humanity by posting this on Facebook: “I’m surprised Dick Cheney got a heart after lasting all these years without one.” When the FBI itself was offering $25 million for the capture of Osama Bin Laden, Rivers brought him down to size with humor:  “How can we not find Osama? He’s on dialysis. There’s one outlet in all of Afghanistan, find it and follow the cord.”

Nothing was out of bounds, and to Rivers, there was never occasion to look at an audience and ask,“Too soon?” She survived in her battleground of an industry by being constantly topical, strictly au courant. She was one of the first comics to inject humor into 9/11. And she was roundly blasted for it in the press. As a woman who had clawed her way through a jagged, uneven career, she had
little patience with those who were famous just for being famous. She was merciless with Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.  She had things she wanted to get off of her chest, and she early on discovered the glory of free speech. It has often been said of her that she simply said what the rest of us were thinking. That may be a bit of a stretch, but she did verbalize all that was commonly forbidden, and we laughed until we cried.  You know we did.  As Rivers would often say, “Oh grow up!”

I have never witnessed the outpouring of grief, internationally, for an entertainer, as I have since Joan Rivers died. And I get it. Smart people knew Joan Rivers was a finely-crafted, carefully evolved character created and managed by her inner Joan Molinsky, the plainer, softer launching pad for the fiercely driven star. Smart people knew there was a genuinely loveable core underneath the take no prisoners, seemingly ruthless exterior.

Here are three things I know for sure about Joan Rivers: 1) Joan Rivers made all of us – even those who purported not to like her brand of comedy -- laugh at ourselves and our world, for 50 years;  2)  In a room full of people, Joan Rivers was among the smartest minds in the room; 3) What Joan Rivers brought to the table was nothing more or nothing less than joy.  

On behalf of about a bazillion people, thank you Joan Rivers.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

THE DREADED J-WORD: JOURNALISM

Melissa Harris-Perry models tampon earrings.  Really.
It was a very embarrassing -one might say “humiliating”- week for journalism. One reporter wore tampons as earrings, live on air. Another tweeted a photo of himself almost nude, and a third reporter asked a highly respected scholarly researcher how he, a Muslim, could justify writing a book about Jesus.

Could it get any worse for the broadcasting business? Well, yes it could. In addition to all of the above, which I’ll detail in a moment, there was beleaguered, way-past-his-expiration-date Rush Limbaugh who said this of Huma Abedin, wife of serial sexter Anthony Weiner: "It's relevant to point out here by the way ... Huma is a Muslim. In that regard, Weiner ought to be able to get away with anything.

“Muslim women don’t have any power, right?” he continued. “Muslim women are beheaded, stoned, whatever, if they drive, have affairs. In certain countries, Muslim women, if they’re raped, are killed -- it’s their fault."

Hmmm..did you know we behead Muslim women in America? I did not know that. Oh, and did someone forget to tell Rush that Huma Abedin was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Meanwhile, none other than anti-journalist Glenn Beck rented a series of rooms in a downtown Salt Lake City hotel to display his collection of Nazi memorabilia, including hooded KKK cape, a swastika banner that was used at Nuremberg, a copy of Mein Kampf signed by Adolf Hitler, the love letters of Hermann Göring, a satin handkerchief with Hitler’s blood.

Oy.

If you’re already starting to hyperventilate at all of the above, calm yourself and read on. First, about those earlier-mentioned earrings. Melissa Harris-Perry, a relative newcomer to the cable news circus, hosts a Sunday round table talk show on MSNBC. After state troopers confiscated tampons, maxi pads and other potential projectile items from those entering the Texas state capitol building recently, Perry made light of the civic debacle this way:
                       

Upon seeing Harris-Perry don tampons on her lobes, satirist and cultural commentator Dennis Miller tweeted, “David Brinkley turning over so rapidly in his grave you could make chicken shawarma in it.”

"70 is the new 50"...Not
Oh and about that above-referenced journalist who tweeted an almost-naked shot of himself: That would be Geraldo Rivera, 70, of Fox News. Rivera, whose checkered career spans five decades, tweeted the selfie with the tag line, “70 is the new 50.” No Geraldo, based on what we see in the photo,
70 is 70, and my unsolicited advice goes like this: Get dressed.

Compounding the tasteless episode were Rivera’s own words of attempted justification. He began by explaining he had had a long day at work, and he had a couple of drinks before breaking out the camera. Then he said, "And I never do tequila when I'm alone, but I had this new bottle that someone had given me. That second my fate was sealed. I said, 'Dammit, I like that picture.' I had learned how to use Twitter a couple of weeks ago and there I was."

Yes, Geraldo, there you were, but what about us? Do we really need to know that when you’re alone you like to do tequila shots and take naked self pics?

Then there is the case of Lauren Green, also of Fox News, who conducted an on-air interview with religious scholar Reza Aslan. Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life &; Times of Jesus of Nazareth, thought he was to be interviewed about the research he did and the content of the book. But Green inexplicably decided to interview him about how odd she found it that he, a Muslim would write about Jesus. Watch:
The Twitterverse exploded following Green’s disastrous interview. Tweeted one viewer: “Me: ‘I’m an oceanographer.’ Green: ‘But you live on land.’”

It bears mentioning that all of the broadcasters mentioned herein are experienced adults who were most likely hired in part based of their editorial judgment (except perhaps Harris-Perry, who has no background in media, according to her own bio). Of course one can also be fired for editorial judgment issues – does the name Don Imus ring a bell? Why then, would any of these professionals say or do what I have described here?

In part, this can be explained by a lack of oversight on the part of news directors and the editorial brass. The game today is all about attracting and retaining viewers or listeners. Watch cable news networks often and long enough and you will see a plethora of incidents just as tasteless and unprofessional as the ones I have described here.

You are observing the pioneer days of the 24-hour news cycle. It may not seem that way, but consider that even the granddaddy of all round-the clock news, CNN is only 33 years old. Others, like Fox and MSNBC didn’t arrive on the screen until 1996. By then, the average household in America was either wired for cable or just about to be, which meant the American viewer was on the threshold of remote control roulette. After decades of having just three or four stations from which to choose, suddenly we were in the TV driver’s seat with up to 200 channels. Heady stuff.

From there, cable news stations went into what we could term a “cultural decline.” And now, this many years later, a host is wearing tampon earrings, another is naked on Twitter and a third evidently hasn’t read her interviewee’s book, so she decided to try to discredit the author instead of discussing his work. Ugh.

According the a new Gallup poll, Americans’ confidence in TV news is down to 23 percent of those who responded. That matches our lack of confidence in newspapers. To give you an idea of how bad the numbers look, in 1996 our confidence in TV news was at 46 percent. In 1980 our confidence in newspapers was at 51 percent. (These figures area based on responses when asked if consumers have “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence” in these entities.)

Jon Stewart -- The New Cronkite?
If that doesn’t disturb you, you should also know that among young people, high profile news broadcasters are not trustworthy. Who will ever forget the TIME Magazine poll in 2009 that found Jon Stewart of The Daily Show the most trusted newscaster in America. Huh?

Therein is the danger of cable news networks putting people like Harris-Perry, Rivera and Green front and center. As if the journalism profession were not sullied enough by its own historical missteps, by promoting individuals who value entertainment over substantive content, the viewing public comes to equate their broadcasts with any other white noise that comes from our increasingly technologically- sophisticated televisions. The technology is at an all-time high while the content of what it projects is in the gutter.

I remember about a zillion years ago when I was in journalism school, NBC anchorman John Chancellor came to speak to us. He said, “You are about to enter the most noble profession there is. Keeping the citizenry informed about the issues that directly touch their lives is as important as any job can be. It’s a big responsibility that carries with it a rich history to which you will now contribute.”

Those were some wise words. Compare that with a quote from Geraldo Rivera: “I’m old, but I’m still cute and strong…and very butch.”

Fellow TV viewers..we’re doomed.

Monday, June 24, 2013

BUTTER AND BIGOTRY: THE PAULA DEAN STORY


http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_cIC17_FAHhQ/TIEaE0an4DI/AAAAAAAACgk/A4B2J0PS0ok/s640/PaulaDeen.jpgOh Paula. Paula, Paula, Paula. What fresh hell hath y’all wrought now? First it was you pushing high fat and cholesterol cooking when you knew you had diabetes, and now you’re slinging the word nigger. Some of us out here – okay, many of us out here are not having it.  I, for one, am not having it.

About 30 years ago I moved to the deep South from the Midwest. Where I grew up, we didn’t hear the word nigger much, and I did not use it at all. I know for sure I never heard either of my parents use the word, and neither did our neighbors or family friends. So all the people out there who keep asking the question, “Come on, how many adults have never used the word nigger?” should listen up. Many, many, many people know the demeaning, condescending and fully non-productive nature of the word, and we do not use it, ever.

  Paula Deen would have us believe that she used it because she’s “old” (66 is old?) and she’s from the South.  The latter, while certainly not an excuse, is something I semi-understand.  When I moved to New Orleans in the 1980s, where I have been ever since, I was stunned at the frequency at which the word is thrown around in daily conversation.  I remember going to a very upscale cocktail party in a private home when one of the blue blazered, white shirt and khaki-pants (the Southern gent’s casual uniform) guests told me to “Get yourself a drink – there’s a nigger walking around with a tray full of ‘em.” I also remember a sales director I worked with in a luxury hotel saying to me, “I told that stupid nigger I needed copies of this document for the meeting, but of course she’s too lazy to run copies.”  I also remember eating in that same hotel’s employee cafeteria, when one of my co-workers said, “You’ll be lucky if you can find anything edible in here – they cook nigger food mostly.” All of this happened. And so much more.

To this day, at almost 60 years old, I’m still taken aback every time I hear the word used.  I don’t get it.  I don’t want to get it. I don’t want you to get it either. But I feel compelled to write a few things that I do get about the ramifications of categorizing an entire population segment with one ugly, unforgiving word:
  •        Words are symbols. As symbols, words are painfully powerful. By calling a black person a nigger, the speaker instantly sets himself or herself up as superior to the person they are targeting. It is a false superiority based on a culturally historical misconception that one population group is superior to another population group. Key word: misconception.
  •       Having lived through the mid-20th century Civil Rights movement, I know that what followed that movement was a decades-long effort to evolve the word out of the English language. We who were fostering that effort were making great progress until about the 1980s when hip hop music evolved. The music insisted on using the word “nigga” routinely in lyrics. That use of the word among black entertainers served only to perpetuate its use among other population groups and to mainstream its use well into the 21st century. So to the many, many white people who ask the same question over and over again – “Why is it okay for a black person to use the word, but it’s not okay for us to use it?” – the answer is simple: It’s not okay for anybody to use it.
  •       The word nigger is used as a symbol for “less than.”  The user is essentially stating, “You are less than I.” What I know for sure is that nobody has the right in this life to decide if another person is less than anyone else. And that applies to any number of other English words that need to be trashed – faggot, queer, cunt, spick, kike, retard – shall I go on?  I think not.
So, back to “old” sweet Paul Deen.  I do not believe Paula Deen is a bad human being because she said “nigger.” I don’t even believe Paul Deen is a bad human being if she ran a business in which
certain employees were treated differently because they are black. I believe she is a flawed human being just like you and I are flawed human beings. But there are consequences for bad behavior, and Paula will now be subject to those.  I heard a guy who had been in prison for 21 years for a crime he did not commit,  say something very wise: “What I have learned over all these years,” he said, “is that revenge doesn’t work. Accountability does.”

Paula Dean knew that exercising institutional racism and false superiority was bad behavior. She knew all along that living in the South was no excuse for categorizing black Americans as “less than.” She knew that it was not okay to consider planning a plantation-themed wedding with all black male waiters in white jackets, that the very idea was unacceptable, and a twisted, ill-conceived tribute to a moment in American history of which we are all rightfully ashamed. She knows that apologizing for her bad behavior and “begging” (her word) for our forgiveness will not wipe out decades of subtle and not-so-subtle racist behavior on her part. And rest assured, she is now being held accountable for all of it.

Deen is a much-beloved figure among a lot of her faithful fans. They, and believe it or not, I, do not want to see her lose her career.  What I do want to see is Paula Dean working to regain her career, rather than simply stepping back into it once we are all on to the next big story in America. FOOD Network has dropped her, and so has Smithfield hams. Rumor has it that QVC, Kmart and even her publisher are considering doing the same. But contrary to F. Scott Fitzgerald, there are second acts in America, but they come with an uphill climb. I would point out that it was fully seven years ago that Michael Richards (Kramer on “Seinfeld”) was banned for life from The Laugh Factory (left)
after going on a much-publicized racial tirade after being heckled by a black audience member. You haven’t heard much about or from Richards since, have you? Only now, all these years later is he slowly re-emerging in the entertainment industry.  The uphill climb and all that, you see? What about Mel Gibson? Remember him telling his girlfriend he didn’t care if she was “raped by a pack of niggers?” Gibson, one of the biggest movie stars in the world prior to his crazy rants, is now pretty much on the Hollywood D-list.

http://img.foodnetwork.com/FOOD/2007/05/03/pa1001_brownies_lg.jpgWhat I have learned about racism is this: Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. If Paul Dean said she used the word “nigger” in the past and that her husband still does, and if employees in her business say she makes some business decisions based on the color of their skin, my instincts tell me somewhere in there is some truth.  I have also observed that otherwise really fine people can be racist." That is their major flaw. And I have made a decision for myself that the racism flaw is not acceptable to me. So I will not be spending any disposable income on Paula Dean products. I will forgo learning how to make Paula’s white chocolate cherry chunkies. That’s my choice. Others will choose otherwise, and I predict Deen will rise again, but perhaps not to the exalted, buttery level she once enjoyed.

I won’t patronize Paula Deen because I get who she is. I have met her a thousand times in a thousand different faces and places in the South. Racism runs way deep down here at the bottom of the United States. It is alive. I often say that I believe racism right now is much worse than it was in the mid-20th century.  Teenagers who try to “act black?” Racism. White collar execs who perpetuate the white man’s executive level in corporate America? Racism.  Broadcast and cable networks that rarely cast a black actor in a lead role? Racism.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of doing away with the Voting Rights Act? Racism at the highest level possible.

My personal decision is not to receive it in my life.  What is your decision?

Friday, June 14, 2013

OF CAFFEINE, COMICS AND SEINFELD


When you are at work wasting time on your computer --- notice I said “when,” not “if” and you know who you are – you truly need to be watching Jerry Seinfeld’s web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” GreenbergRants first clued you in about this series last year in a sidebar (those short takes we run in the left hand column on this page), and I wondered if the show would take off. Not only has it taken off, but it scored a second season on line, and it has a bigtime sponsor, Acura.

Seinfeld is widely known to be a car enthusiast, so it makes sense that an upscale motorcar company would underwrite the series. If for some reason you still have not watched this series, just know that the premise is simple: Each episode features Seinfeld and one of his famously funny friends riding in a car hand selected by the host, on their way to a coffeehouse destination to have coffee and just talk.

If you work in a cubicle, be careful when watching, because you are going to be laughing out loud and you may spit your own coffee all over your computer screen. It was during the first season that Seinfeld’s pal Larry David said, “You’ve finally made a show about nothing.” Who knew “nothing” could be this funny? The second season will feature the likes of Sarah Silverman, David Letterman, Chris Rock, Don Rickles and Seth Myers, among others.

Recently, BRAVO TV’s Andy Cohen spent a half hour talking with Seinfeld about the show. Even there Seinfeld was funny – the guy can’t help it. As a New Orleanian I’m especially keyed into Seinfeld right now because it was just announced he will do two shows to re-introduce the famed Saenger Theatre to the public this coming Fall. The Saenger was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina and is now finally re-opening after eight years. Meanwhile, I’ll satisfy all Seinfeld cravings by watching “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. You can too - go to www.crackle.com  Watch this:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

ZACH'S STORY

Last December, Zach Sobiech, 18, posted a video on YouTube of a song he wrote called “Clouds.” Each day, thousands of kids all over the world post videos, but this one somehow caught the attention of more than four million people, once his story was revealed. Zach was diagnosed with bone cancer that spread throughout his body.

Zach’s story would be predictably tragic, were it not for his indomitable spirit and his true recognition that life is indeed a gift. Told he only had a few months to live, Zach decided to do just that – live. What follows is a short documentary about his last days of life, complete with a family that embraced every second, a girlfriend who risked her own emotional upheaval and friends and musicians who rallied to make every moment count. On Sunday, May 20, Zach died. His story is not so much about death as it is an affirmation of life. In the end, it's a joyful story. Watch. Please watch.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

THE UNITED STATES OF BOSTON

There are a lot of us Americans out here who believe what happened in Boston is really indicative of a much more pervasive threat in America. The simple truth is that there are way too many human beings of varying nationalities who abhor all things American. We are roundly hated in many corners of the earth, and our one-time “impenetrable” borders are now anything but. Everybody is fully exposed now. We American citizens are seemingly dangerously exposed to unknown individual enemies with psychopathic intentions, and those very enemies are exposed to unprecedented law enforcement technology and countless cameras. We’re all naked in the worst way.

 Those of us in my generation trace one of our earliest memories to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. From that moment, we progressed on through a number of other mid-to-late-20th century bloody assassinations, and right into the ongoing carnage of the Vietnam war. In between it all was the civil rights struggle that saw eruptions of street rioting coast to coast. We were raised on violence and mayhem. As children we saw our President shot through the brain. As teens we watched blood and guts in Vietnamese rice paddies every night on Walter Cronkite’s evening newscast. As young adults we were already inundated with unnatural acts of horror. By the time we were full adults, the Murrah Federal Building (left) was blown up in Oklahoma City. This time the carnage was the work of a disgruntled American angry at the government for another violent confrontation in Waco, TX two years earlier. And then the road winds around right into 9/11.

And now…Boston.

The day JFK was murdered, the U.S was about as low-tech as a developed nation could be. When the riots happened late at night in Washington, D.C. and Harlem the night Martin Luther King was murdered, many of us had no idea it was happening until the next day. Vietnam happened on our TV screens, but generally not in real time. Even so many years later when Oklahoma City happened, and later when the planes hit the buildings in NYC, although we watched it happen live on TV, there was not much social media happening and cameras in phones were not widely available yet.

But Boston? The world is so high tech now that not only did law enforcement rely heavily on private citizens’ phone photos, but the second suspect was caught after a helicopter used infrared imaging technology (right) to determine that he was hiding under a sealed canvas in a boat. Those in the know explained it to us laypeople as technology that senses heat
to indicate there is an animal or human being in the targeted region. X-Ray vision, 21st century style. Technology did in the Tsarnaev brothers. As one network reporter put it, the phrase “lost in a crowd” no longer exists in 21st century America. If not technology, what other explanation is there that the Tsarnaev boys were identified and targeted by law enforcement within 24 – 48 hours of the marathon bombings?

 But there are other differences between Boston and the history-making violent events through which we have lived. Chief among them may be the fact that Chechnya, a country of just over 1.2 million citizens could be a threat to the mighty USA. It speaks to the undeniable shift in world security that these two boys were able to pull this off. Another meaningful difference between Boston and past violent incidents is the complex fact that although they caught us by surprise with the bombings, we are no longer fully shocked that it could happen. We know now that terrorist attacks can happen anywhere, anytime. Three days after the Boston bombings a bomb threat at the New Orleans Marriott hotel forced its officials to evacuate the entire 41 floors and 1300+ guest rooms. Right here in New Orleans – we’re not a major U.S. center of commerce; we’re not a national government seat; we’re not even a tremendously populated city, compared to our more cosmopolitan sister cities. Yet even we have bomb threats.
The difference between Boston and other events we’ve witnessed is simply that now we know terrorism has no geographical preferences or boundaries. So – we are Boston. And Boston is us. And that “new normal” that you hear bandied about in contemporary vernacular is real. The new normal can be summed up this way: We are not necessarily safe in America. We know that, and we navigate our way through life with that sort of hanging over us each day.

It is still the freest country in the world, but freedom has been somewhat redefined. It now means we are on camera most of the time that we are not at home. It means there is even technology being used that can determine if someone is indeed in their home at any given time. The new normal holds that we Americans are not internationally adored. In many places just the opposite is the case. And the new normal holds that those who would commit violent mass attacks walk right among us. The surviving Tsarnaev brother is described by some of his American high school and college classmates as a great guy, fun, and just “one of us.” So far, to a person they describe someone who they would never have known had it in for Americans.

 Those are the necessary lessons of Boston. We are now the United States of Boston. I remember not so many years ago when we were all called upon to be the United States of New Orleans. It was a powerful feeling. The larger lesson I take away from these moments? That would be that unity is our true, best shot at national security.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

MY 7 OBSESSIONS WITH "MAD MEN"

http://images.hitfix.com/photos/2938636/mad-men-season-6-gallery_article_story_main.jpg

I’m one of those people who can’t get enough “Mad Men,” and after waiting almost a year for the show to come back with new episodes, Sunday night was a major event. Maybe it’s the focus on the 1960’s, the decade in which I grew up, and the uncanny social accuracy the creators achieve. The sets, the costumes, the drinks, the cigarettes, the music, the sexy overtones (more on that later!), but especially the mindset. How could our cultural status have appeared so sophisticated, but really have been so, so innocent? This new set of episodes appears to be set right around 1968, and if ever there was a year that altered the American psyche and the future of the society, it was that year. As one who is obsessed with the show, here are 10 objects of my obsession from the first new episode:

1. THE CHANGING ROLE OF WOMEN: Main character Peggy Olsen represents the antithesis of what women were supposed to be back then. Career-laser-focused, Peggy is in a new, more responsible advertising position, and true to form,her behavior is now mirroring the behavior of her male counterparts at her former ad agency. That’s what women thought they had to do back then, and well into the 1980s, actually. They believed they had to become men to make the unlikely climb up the corporate ladder. “Can you get me some coffee?” she barks from her office while working all night on New Year’s Eve and forcing her male subordinates to do the same.

2. COUNTER CULTURE: A few seasons ago there was an NBC TV drama called “American Dreams,” also set in the 1960s, in which the year 1968 was just touched on in the third season. Those who didn’t live through the “hippie era” were about to see how it changed some young people from innocents into members of a new societal counter culture. It got cancelled. “Mad Men” is about to pick up right where “American Dreams” left off, with a view of how some young people rejected convention and formed their own youth movement.

 3. SEX: (As promised!) The birth control pill was only seven years old by 1968, and the HIV/AIDS scare was decades away, so sex was in the air, next door, in the office, at the holiday party, everywhere you can imagine. Back then, people blamed the more open attitude toward sex on the hippie movement, but truly it was a grownup phenomenon fueled by a widespread “because we can” attitude. Don Draper’s return to extra-marital flings in the first episode makes perfect sense. Comments now deemed inappropriate were de rigueur in the office back then. In the New Year’s Eve party scene in Don and Megan’s ultra-mod high rise apartment, a female guest who is in attendance with her husband, openly comes on to Don right in front of Megan. Later that same night, Don has sex with his neighbor’s wife. If only Sinatra were still with us to narrate that moment with his trademark “Ring-a-ding-ding.”

4. DEATH: Don Draper is focusing too often and too heavily on all things death-related. In one scene, a drunk Don questions the doorman at his apartment building, who had suffered a heart attack a while back and been declared clinically dead before being revived. “What did you see?” Don demands. “What was it like?” In another scene, Don plays the doorman’s death over again in his memory in slow motion. When Don attends a funeral gathering for co-worker Roger Sterling’s mother, he throws up in front of the entire crowd. In a rare faux pas, Don creates an ad campaign for a hotel/resort company that is rejected by the client, who says it strikes him as suggestive of suicide. Don’s got death on the brain.

 5. VICES: Cigarettes and booze are players in almost every scene in “Mad Men.” There is smoking in hospitals and at dinner tables, drinking at the office and even at funerals. When Roger Sterling’s secretary must inform him of his own mother’s death, he quickly pours her a stiff one, which she downs in one long gulp. On vacation in Hawaii, Megan Draper trudges down to a skeezy part of the beach to score a joint, which she victoriously brings back to the hotel room to smoke before she and Don have sex. Smoking pot was still considered sneaky, naughty, and yes…sexy. Very sixties.

6. MEN’S BURIED EMOTIONS: If you think men are denying their feelings orconcealing their emotions today, you really had to see 1960s men. Don Draper is great at withholding everything he feels and internalizing it all into some deep, dark tunnel of grey matter. And Roger Sterling, who barely blinked upon hearing of his mother’s death, cries wild tears upon hearing that his regular shoe shine man died – but only in his office, alone. 1960s men are accurately depicted in “Mad Men” as in emotional denial about everything and unable to converse with anyone in any circumstance about feelings.

 7.FASHION:“Mad Men” captures the look of the 1960s better than almost any fictionalized piece I have ever seen. In my first job out of college (1975) I worked at a TV station in which we absolutely had a woman of the Joan Holloway genre. Full figured, proud of it, and dressed to accentuate all of it. The office attire is dressy, tailored and dry-cleaned within an inch of its fibrous life. Men’s fashion is stylized, but understated. But, as mentioned, it’s 1968, and I predict soon we’ll see the leisure suits, chains, miniskirts, platform shoes, etc. But by 1968, office attire was still very 1960ish. My hat is way off to the costumers. Perfect.

Even with all of my above-mentioned obsessions, the real genius in the series rests in the writers’ words. For five seasons the writers have slowly and meticulously revealed that Don Draper is a human train wreck. Now it becomes more obvious: On vacation in Hawaii, he is on the beach reading “The Inferno,” of all things. Creator Matt Weiner walks a fine line of over-symbolizing… “The Inferno” was a bit much, but it fits with everything we already know about Don’s dark psyche.

The writers are also smartly and slowly working in references to Vietnam. So far the references are pretty benign, but 1968 was the year of the Tet offensive, a series of attacks by the North Vietnamese that escalated the war in an unprecedented way. Some say the Tet offensive did in Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, caused Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s military career to crash and burn and caused everyday Americans to truly realize we were in a war. How will “Mad Men” handle this new infusion of faraway blood and guts to influence its scripts? How will the writers balance their material between Wall Street, Hanoi and Haight Ashbury. That 1960s innocence I mentioned earlier? It’s due to fade to black in this season’s “Mad Men.” Why oh why aren’t you watching???!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

BAD BOYS IN ANYTOWN, USA

Edgar Gonzalez, 18 (left) and John Toribio, 18
At first glance, Torrington, CT could be anytown USA. It’s so “anytownish” that a drive through town reveals a mix of neatly manicured lawns, nicely rehabbed old buildings mixed with environmentally-correct newer architecture. With a population of under 40,000 people, (over 90 percent white), the town is reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s enduring drama, “Our Town,” except a century later. The big difference? In Torrington, two high school football players are currently charged with forcibly raping a 13-year-old girl. That did not happen in Wilder’s Grovers Corner.

Trent Mays, 16 (l) and Ma'Lik Richmond, 17
Coming on the heels of the highly-publicized case of two footballers being convicted of rape in Steubenville, OH, the case seems eerily similar. According to published reports, Edgar Gonzalez and John Toribio were charged with felony second-degree sexual assault and other crimes last month in cases involving different 13-year-old girls. Toribio also was charged two weeks ago in another second-degree sexual assault. Not guilty pleas have been entered on behalf of both. Similarly, in Steubenville, Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond answered charges of raping a drunk 16-year-old girl. Since they were minors at the time of the crime, they were sentenced as juveniles. It is likely one of them will spend a year in juvenile jail, while the other may spend two years.

There are two issues that jump off the page in both of these cases. First, via these two cases we are witnessing the extreme downside of social media. In both towns, other teens have taken to Twitter to express their anger at the victims of these assaults. The unidentified 13-year-old girl in Torrington has been called all the predictable names – snitch, bitch, slut, whore, hoe, etc. Very few Tweets have been reported that are directed at the alleged attackers. The same thing happened in Ohio. Such is the duplicitous nature of our collective morality. Some Tweets asked why a 13-year-old girl was hanging out with 18-year-old boys. One Tweet admonished the victim for “ruining two people’s lives.” Another Tweeted, “young girls acting like whores there’s no punishment, young men acting like boys that’s a sentence.” Have we not yet moved past or evolved up from the “boys will be boys” argument?

Blaming women for being raped is nothing new, but here in the early 21st century one might believe we’d be a bit more enlightened than to perpetuate such ignorant admonishments. By now, you have no doubt heard the intense criticism leveled at CNN’s anchor Candy Crowley and correspondent Poppy Harlow for their post-Steubenville sentencing coverage. More than 200,000 people have signed a petition criticizing the two reporters for allegedly sympathizing on-air with the convicted rapists rather than the young victim. Both have publicly denied that their reporting was skewed toward the boys, but the proof is in the video. Watch: A tip of the socially-conscious hat to those 200,000 plus people who signed the petition asking why the reporters never saw fit to even mention the plight of the young woman who was raped. The petition demands an on-air apology from CNN. Oh, and it gets worse: Shame, shame on CNN for airing a courtroom clip in which the name of the 16-year-old victim was said out loud. Come on CNN. What the hell is going on?

Beyond the clear sexism in the public’s and the media’s response to these types of cases is the issue of obvious negligence on the part of adults. Is no one teaching teens the necessity of social consciousness, respect for fellow human beings and the importance of behavioral boundaries? We all know that left to their own devices, some young teenage girls will recklessly flirt with older boys, and those older boys will most often be ruled by their own raging testosterone levels. Put those two combustible agents together and poof – teen rape in Anytown, USA. Don’t misinterpret this: I place the blame for these sexual assaults directly on the boys who perpetrated the crimes. But I have to wonder why we adults are not working a bit harder to properly socialize kids.

As mentioned above, there is nothing new about any of this. When I was in high school in what seems about 100 years ago, a young male teacher told one of my horny male classmates this, when pointing out a particularly big-breasted teenage girl: “See? That’s the kind of shit you go after and you don’t stop until you get it.” I never forgot that moment. How many other teachers and coaches are counseling their randy young male students or athletes to pursue that “kind of shit” even today? I daresay it’s pretty widespread. As usual, the numbers tell the story: 10.5 percent of all American high school-age girls have been forced into sexual intercourse, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure is conservative, based on the CDC’s further finding that up to 50 percent of sexual assaults against women are never reported. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that in 2007 that one in two rape victims was under age 18; one in six was under age twelve.

Often the perpetrators simply continue their daily lives, uninterrupted. Why weren’t any of these boys suspended from their football teams when the formal accusations were made? In Steubenville, Gonzalez had already been charged in a March 2012 alleged felony robbery after he and three others allegedly jumped three 14-year-olds in search of money, yet he was allowed to play in the 2012 football season anyway.

These incidents are hard reminders that we are still a paternalistic society; that we still give our young athletes a pass when it comes to their blatantly bad – and sometimes felonious – behavior; that victims of sexual crimes are often further victimized by onlookers and even Tweeters; and most importantly, that the grownups have fallen way down on the job of teaching kids right from wrong. When two grown, educated, successful women broadcast their extreme compassion for two rapists on national television, something is way, way off. When high school football coaches attempt to cover up the criminal actions of their players, the entire community suffers. It all serves only to perpetuate the myth that “it’s just sex.” It’s not just sex. It’s about power and violence and every time we protect or sympathize with a boy who rapes a girl we put another ethical dent in an already damaged culture.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

CPAC SOUNDS OFF ON GAY MARRIAGE

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) ignited a firestorm this week when he anounced his sharp u-turn on gay marriage. Long a vocal and hard-voting conservative on all issues gay (he actually co-sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]), Portman’s stunning reversal happened after his own 26-year-old son came out as gay. (See “A Senator Sees the Light” on the left side of this page) It so happens Portman’s revelation of his change of political heart happened at the exact moment the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was in session. The ultra-liberal blog “Think Progress” dispatched a team of reporters to cover the conference. Today, one of them talked to several CPAC attendees to get their reaction to Portman’s comments. Their reaction, while predictable, is still jarring in its intolerance. In the midst of rapid societal progress, these comments illustrate how divided the country still is on social issues Watch: Interestingly, the younger attendees at CPAC have a different take on gay marriage. While not necessarily in favor of changing the law, many of them express more inclusive suggestions for social change. Watch:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

ANIMAL CRUELTY LAWS: Weak and Unenforced


http://us.123rf.com/400wm/400/400/isselee/isselee1112/isselee111200239/11615444-group-of-cats-and-dogs-in-front-of-white-background.jpgOn Sept. 12, 2011, Milan Rysa, an illegal immigrant tossed his three-year-old Shar-Pei dog out of his third-story apartment window in Queens, NY.  The dog died upon impact, barely missing two women pedestrians before it hit the street. I have been closely following the progress of Rysa’s case since that night.  Rysa, a bodybuilder who worked at a local gym, was arrested the night of the incident, although he initially said he was asleep when the dog died and had nothing to do with it. He was taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation and then put in prison. He eventually pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment March 15, 2012 and was given a sentence of 364 days in prison. He served just three-quarters of his sentence.
http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.952919.1318383812!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/alg-milan-rysa-brklyn-jpg.jpg
Milan Rysa and "Brooklyn"
 Rysa then became subject to Immigration and Customs Enforcement action.  He is awaiting a court date to find out if he will be deported to his native Czech Republic. The message Rysa’s experience sends to the world is that in America you can murder an animal that you own, serve a brief prison sentence and then be released. If the American animal abuse laws are inadequate, it is largely because they are archaic and not prioritized by individual states. 
  
"PRIMO"
http://blog.nola.com/news_impact/2009/07/large_Primo2.jpg Consider what happened in my own home town, New Orleans.  Primo was a six-year-old Belgian Malinois who served in the K-9 division of the New Orleans Police Department. In May, 2009, his handler, Officer Jason Lewis, left Primo unattended in a police vehicle in extreme heat.  The dog evidently struggled to escape the vehicle, but weakened and died of heat stroke.  Prior to dying, the dog was taken to a veterinarian, where he suffered three seizures before succumbing. Photos of the vehicle (above, left) in which Primo died show a torn up interior, likely the result of Primo’s desperate attempt to escape. It should be noted that the necropsy report by the Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory shows Primo’s temperature upon arrival at the veterinary clinic was 109.8 degrees.

Lewis was appropriately fired.  But he appealed his termination and in May, 2012 the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans said it found no evidence that officer Jason Lewis was negligent in his care for Primo, his 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, and Lewis was reinstated to his NOPD position.

Also in May, 2009, veteran K-9 NOPD officer Sgt. Randy Lewis falsified a permission slip to use another police dog named Phantom in a security search of a shuttered New Orleans hospital.  The dog, who was not technically supposed to be on this detail, broke free from Lewis while in the hospital and fell 17 floors down an elevator shaft.  Lewis, court records indicate, then tried to cover up the details of the dog’s death.  He was charged with malfeasance in office, but remarkably, he was acquitted.

These disgusting examples of animal abuse and neglect may seem as though they are isolated incidents, but the hard truth is that animal mistreatment is epidemic in our culture. The Humane Society of America reports that most victims (65%) are dogs.  It is further reported that 71 per cent of human domestic violence victims report that their abuser also targets their animals. Forty-seven states currently have felony provisions for animal abuse. Those that do not have such laws are Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota.

http://cdn.bimfs.com/WWLTV/944ce430b8fe8dce695d847bceb1c48ba8dd58d9.jpgThe problem is that these laws are weakly enforced, and individual judges can dismiss cases, which is exactly what happened with Sgt. Randy Lewis. The felony animal abuse laws are unevenly prosecuted nationwide.  Perhaps this rather nonchalant view of animal abuse will explain why in 2010, there were only 16 reported cases of animal abuse in Louisiana.  In New York, where Milan Rysa murdered his dog, there were 100 cases, still a fraction of the number of animals that were most likely abused in the state that year.

Some perspective:  In Louisiana, the penalty for purse-snatching is two to 20 years in prison. But, as stated above, the penalty for allowing a dog to die under the cruelest conditions in a hot car with windows closed was…well, there was no penalty. In New York, the penalty for breaking windows in someone’s house is imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of not more than $15,000.00 or 3 times the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater, or both imprisonment and a fine. http://www.pet-abuse.com/media/statistics/offleash_pie.php But, in the case of Milan Rysa, the penalty for murdering a dog is less than a year in prison, and no fine. There are many states, most notably Kentucky and New Mexico, in which owners do not even have to forfeit their animals if they abuse them and get caught.  They get to keep them and most likely abuse them further. There is no consistency from state to state regarding animal abuse laws and penalties and many states almost ignore the problem. In Iowa, for example, police officers are not even required to report animal abuse that they witness, or to intervene to try to stop the abuse. You can beat your dog up in front of an Iowa cop and he or she has no obligation to stop you.

In 2012, the Animal Legal Defense Fund issued a report, "U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings," in which it ranked every state in the U.S. as to its animal abuse laws and enforcement.  Even in Illinois, which it ranked in the top five states for animal protection, it revealed that if a citizen is convicted of animal abuse, he or she does not have to give up their animal. Further, just like Iowa, if police officers witness animal abuse, they do not have “an affirmative duty to enforce animal protection laws.”   Other states have animal protection laws that lack definitions, so enforcement of the laws becomes arbitrary.  Still other states lack basic laws to protect animals from obvious mistreatment. In New Mexico, for example, remarkably there are no provisions for sexual assault of an animal. We humans have to start taking action in our individual states to strengthen these laws.  Here is what you can do:

1.      Contact your state legislators and express your concern about animal protection. Many legislators do not take much of an interest in animal protection because it is not a hot button topic that gains them notoriety or votes. You have to push them to act. WE ALL HAVE TO BECOME ACTIVISTS AND LOBBYISTS.  Animals are depending on us.
2.      If you suspect or witness animal cruelty or neglect, report the abuse to the Humane Society, document what you have seen or suspected and be willing to testify against the perpetrator.
3.      Work within the system to strengthen existing animal protection laws in your state. Start locally, move to the state level and then the national level, via groups that are already involved with animal protection.
4.      Know the laws in your state so that you can know what is missing. Click here to learn the specifics of the laws in your state, as listed by the ASPCA.    Also, know what laws are pending.  You can find this out through an interactive map
6.      at Born Free USA, a national non-profit organization that lobbies for the care and protection of animals. 
 5.  Contact the media to get coverage for instances of extreme cruelty and neglect. If you contact a local television station, ask to speak directly with the news director and be brief, concise and specific.  Offer to be interviewed, if necessary. 

Most importantly, adopt animals that you can take care of properly. Encourage people you trust to do the same. If you truly love animals, now is the time for us all to mobilize against animal cruelty.  Never give up and never stop caring.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

YAHOO!'s 12,000 NEWLY-DISGRUNTLED WORKERS

UPDATE - March 7, 2013 One week after YAHOO! announced that it would no longer allow telecommuting, Best Buy, the struggling home appliance and electronics giant, announced it will now do much the same thing. Best Buy will end a program started in 2005 that allowed many of its corporate employees to work flexible hours, including some from their homes. Click here to read the details. The original post about YAHOO! follows below:
From all outward appearances, Marissa Mayer is the epitome of a 21st century young business-woman, balancing her formidable work life and her new role as mother. Mayer, 37, is the Stanford-educated over-achiever who just last year was installed as CEO of YAHOO!, after a 13-year career with Google. Her trajectory, while enviable (she will earn a reported $59 million this year), hit a nasty public image snag last week, when she announced that the approximately 12,000 YAHOO! employees who telecommute will now be required to work regular business hours in the office. For a company that has touted itself as the “grandfather” of the tech industry, Mayer’s announcement seemed to some about as forward-thinking as a manual typewriter.

Among those who will be adversely affected by Mayer’s decision are physically challenged workers, some who care for disabled or elderly relatives, those who live great distances from the workplace, and especially parents, who have found the best of both worlds, being able to raise their children at home and have fruitful careers. It is the latter group who are the focus of much of the media swell that resulted from Mayer’s announcement.
The media has demonstrated sharp division in its reaction to Mayer’s decision. One wonders how many more articles with titles like “5 Reasons Melissa Mayer is Right” or “3 Reasons Melissa Mayer is Short-Sighted” will flood the editorial inventory before the dust settles. But one thing is for sure: Mayer’s decision is a one-way ticket back to 1973ish, when everybody got up every day, put on their best corporate duds, inhaled coffee, delivered the kids to strangers and took off for big glass boxes to invest their eight hours into whatever it was they did to make money to buy coffee and have kids. It was an inefficient way to run a world then and it certainly makes no sense in 2013, when gas lingers near $4 a gallon, there are more single parents than ever before in American history and the big glass box office buildings cost more than ever to maintain. What in the world was she thinking?

Well, according to the digital doyenne, togetherness is the key to success: “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” Mayer wrote in a memo to the staff. "That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices."

Oh Marissa, Marissa, Marissa. Take it from an almost-60-year-old American worker who has worked in one office or another for decades, right next door and down the hall from hundreds (thousands?) of others who have also worked in their own corporate boxes: Togetherness is highly over-rated in the workplace. What galls me more than anything is that you, Marissa, know that to be true.

First, many of your workers get to their offices in the morning and never leave them, except possibly to go to lunch or the restroom, until they leave at 5 p.m. How is that collaborative? Second, about those many married and single parents who work for you: Because your company graciously enabled many of them to work from home, they do not have to pay the astronomical monthly fees for childcare services. Unless you are planning to reasonably increase their salaries, I’m wondering how you expect them to adjust to your new rules.

According to a September, 2012 report from Child Care Aware of America, a year of full-time childcare in a center for a 4-year-old costs an average of $3,900 in Mississippi, compared to $11,700 in Massachusetts, while care for an infant costs $4,600 in Mississippi, compared to nearly $15,000 in Massachusetts. Still not convinced? Get this: In California, where YAHOO!’s corporate offices are located, the average cost of full-time infant child care is more than $11,500, almost double average tuition and fees at a public college. Average full-time day care costs for a four-year-old in California is more than $8,200 — and it also exceeds the almost $6,000 tab for a year at a public college, according to the report by the National Association of Child Resource and Referral Agencies in Arlington, Va.

So, Marissa, is it reasonable and humane for you to expect your workers to add $11,500 to their annual expenses for childcare, not to mention the cost of their commute to and from work, without adjusting their salaries? If Mayer’s answer falls under the “Not my problem” category, that may have something to do with the fact that she brings her own four-month old child (left) to work with her, and has the distinct advantage of having a nursery in her office. Your average worker will not, of course, have that option. While I applaud Mayer’s ability to run a $4 billion company while simultaneously raising a newborn child, it does seem rather non-empathetic of her to expect her underlings to achieve work/life balance with their kids miles away in costly daycare centers. It is complex territory. Watch this report from ABC News:
 The real issue here, however, is Mayer’s commitment to her belief that togetherness is the key to the company’s success. Not so, say researchers. In fact, a Forester Research report projects that 43 percent of Americans will work off-site at least one day a week by 2016. A recent Stanford University study of 249 call center workers at a Chinese travel agency found that those who were randomly selected to work from home four days a week for nine months -- after they volunteered to do so -- experienced a 13 percent increase in their work performance. There are other studies that show increases in productivity for those who work at home, and additional studies that indicate worker satisfaction increases with autonomy and independence from an office setting.

To Marissa Mayer, I would say this: Those 12,000 bodies you want to add to the in-house corporate culture so they can have that free exchange of ideas in person? Many of them will spend their time talking and focusing on anything but their jobs. They will talk a lot about you, and how you have single-handedly set the workplace back a good 25 years. They will talk about each other, about the fabulous new restaurant they went to last night, about how their wireless service sucks, about how somebody’s dress at the Oscars was inappropriate, about when new episodes of “Mad Men” are supposed to debut, about how ridiculously expensive Super Bowl tickets are, about how worried they are about their spouses’ job security, about how hot so-and-so is down the hall…..Marissa, they will talk about almost anything except work. You already know that because you have worked in the corporate culture your whole adult life. So why be so idealistic to believe that returning to a 20th century business model will save a struggling company like YAHOO! in the 21st century?

 Mayer is YAHOO!’s 5th CEO in six years. That is very telling about the current state of the company. She is clearly attempting to make an unprecedented move in a desperate attempt to turn the company around. Desperation doesn’t solve problems in corporateland, I have found. Strong leadership and smart supervision, a nurturing business environment and humane treatment of employees will go much further than squeezing another 12,000 people into a big glass box.