Archive | April, 2012

Happy Birthday, Shirley MacLaine

24 Apr

Happy Birthday

Shirley MacLaine turns 78 today, Happy Birthday.  I have to confess, I’ve always loved Shirley MacLaine for speaking her mind, for her acting career, her politics and support of the LGBT community.  During this time of what is indisputably the war on women, let us read at this quote from MacLaine:

Let us not let them take away these rights for this is clearly not a decision that some senator needs to be making. This is a very personal and private decision between a woman and her doctor. It’s a medical decision and needs to remain in our hands. It is not the place of relgious extremists to take our rights out of our hands. I knew of a man years ago before roe v wade was in place who had to watch his wife die because the law wouldn’t let them abort her baby so they saved the baby and let her die and the child required alot of care and he had two other children. This is not something that the government needs to be included in. This is one more way that the state is trying to worm its way into our very bedrooms, is nothing sacred? Lets get busy and make yet more calls and send more emails.

What is profoundly disturbing is that this quote is from 2003, during the W years.  How sad that things have grown far scarier–thank you Gov. Brewer, John Boehner, Darrell Issa, and all the rest of the misogynists who are supposed to SERVE the people of the United States.

What a pleasure it is to celebrate a strong voice who is not afraid to stand up for social justice.

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Respecting James Beard’s Legacy

21 Apr

Great Chef, Gay Pioneer

Growing up, I knew who James Beard was in a casual sort of way. He was a famous chef who wrote cookbooks and appeared on television. I didn’t fully appreciate his significance, nor did I know how much we had in common. Recent events made me take another look at the great man and want to celebrate his legacy.

Beard was born in Portland, OR in 1903. He lived in my home state until he was in his 20s and had a great appreciation for the beauty of the Oregon coast. He also developed a great love of food, encouraged by his parents’ fondness for fresh ingredients and quality cooking.

He was also gay, a fact he realized by the age of seven and something he never tried to hide. This was very remarkable for his generation. He was kicked out of Reed College in 1922 because he was gay. (Anyone familiar with this quality school’s reputation for embracing the counter-culture will find that as strange and disappointing as I did.) I grew up gay in Oregon in the 70s and that was hard enough. Even though my grandmother says she knew I was gay when I was little, I buried myself in denial. While that spared me some of the difficulty that Beard encountered, I do regret the years I lost by not being able to be myself. Having discovered our shared roots, sexual orientation, love of good food, and enjoyment of Oregon’s coast, I wanted to know more.

I learned that he was interested in the theater, so he joined a traveling troupe. He honed his singing voice and his craft while enjoying the great food of Europe. He particularly fell in love with French cuisine. After Beard returned to the U.S., he found his acting ambitions frustrated, so he turned to his lifelong love and opened a catering company. He quickly rose to fame, appearing on television shows and publishing influential books on cooking. Just as Julia Child helped introduce French cooking to American homes, James Beard helped create the notion of truly American fine cuisine. As Child herself observed:

Beard was the quintessential American cook. Well-educated and well-traveled during his eighty-two years, he was familiar with many cuisines but he remained fundamentally American. He was a big man, over six feet tall, with a big belly, and huge hands. An endearing and always lively teacher, he loved people, loved his work, loved gossip, loved to eat, loved a good time.

He was also a philanthropist, helping found CityMeals-on-Wheels to feed the homebound elderly in New York, where he lived most of his adult life. After his death at the age of 82 (his ashes were scattered near Gearhart on the Oregon Coast), his friends and admirers — led by Julia Child — converted his home into a foundation. The James Beard Foundation provides scholarships to aspiring food professionals and champions the American culinary tradition that Beard helped create. Since 2001 the Beard Foundation has awarded over $2.2 million in scholarships and tuition waivers to young culinarians and career changers pursuing culinary studies.

The Foundation was rocked by scandal in 2004 and its head was imprisoned for grand larceny. The entire board resigned and the Foundation started from scratch under the leadership of Susan Ungaro. For her work in turning around the Foundation and her support of young Americans hoping to pursue a culinary education, Ungaro was recently honored with the Distinguished Citizen Award by the Boy Scouts of America. Ironically, that same group is notoriously anti-gay and would never have associated with the great James Beard. After being reminded by activist and commentator Michelangelo Signorile about the Scouts’ policies, Ungaro did the right thing: she refused the award.

While I support all the poverty and hunger-fighting programs of the Boy Scouts of America, including sending at-risk youth to camp, your report brought to my attention that accepting the Distinguished Citizen Award implied I support their anti-gay policy, which I absolutely do not… I have informed the Boy Scouts of America that I am rescinding my acceptance of the award.

Brava, Ms. Ungaro! Thank you for standing up against bravery and truly honoring the legacy of James Beard, whose foundation you lead. I’m sure he’s lifting a glass of wine in your honor with his trademark grin.

Gay Men Unite Against the War On Women

21 Apr

The Many forms of Misogyny

Another brilliant article by James Queale, TSM Contributor

Knowing about women and women’s rights should be at the top of everyone’s
list. That is why it is saddening to me to see women who have internalized
oppression stemming from a very misogynistic world.With the recent war on women by the Republican party, misogyny is
continually leading in the headlines. Whether it is Jan Brewer’s new “life
begins at the beginning of your period” bill or just recently when Michele
Bachmann spoke with no sense of irony saying:

What we want is women to be able to make their own choices…We want womento make their own choices in healthcare. You see that’s the lie that happens under Obamacare. The President of the United States effectively becomes a health care dictator. Women don’t need anyone to tell them what to do on health care. We want women to have their own choices, their own money, that way they can make their own choices for the future of their own bodies.

Seeing the word “choice” would suggest that Michele Bachmann is now
pro-choice. But, that is not the case. This is a woman that in matters of
rape or incest would still have abortion banned. Where is a woman’s right
to choose? This is a clever way to seem pro-choice while at the same time
taking away freedoms. Don’t you get it? We are more free with less freedom.
Makes perfect sense.There is a never ending lineup of Republican women who are falling on the
misogynistic sword. We need to combat the lies and misinformation and
educate. The attack on women has been ceaseless and we can’t let them win.

Hero of the Week Award: April 20, Josh Hutcherson

20 Apr

Hero of the Week

This week it is a real pleasure to honor a rising Hollywood star who has a great sense of activism and priorities. Josh Hutcherson, only 19, has been in films for half his life. He’s currently starring in the blockbuster book adaptation The Hunger Games. He also co-starred in the wonderful (but very dark) 2010 film The Kids Are Alright as one of two kids growing up with two lesbian parents. In a recent interview with E! Online, Hutcherson focuses on his work with the group Straight But Not Narrow.

Hutcherson is very focused on gay rights, in part because he lost two uncles to HIV while he was too young to really get to know them. He also credits his mother with helping establish his sense of activism and advocacy.

My mom has always been a big advocate, especially in the gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual community so for me it’s always been a part of my soul.

Even more impressive in one so young, Hutcherson is much prouder of his advocacy work than his celebrity status.

Acting is one thing, but actually trying to change the world and the way people think to make people’s lives better? That’s the stuff I’m most proud of.

This weekend he will become the youngest recipient of the GLAAD Vanguard Award, joining the likes of the great Elizabeth Taylor. I look forward to watching this young man continue to make his mark on the world.

Honorable mention this week goes to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. How shocking to see this group acting in a truly Christian way! In a strongly worded letter to Congress, the Bishops tear into the budget proposal put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan, pointing out how it violates Catholic precepts by putting the poor, vulnerable, and needy at risk.

The moral measure of this budget debate is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated. Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources.

Given recent political meddling by Bishops regarding women’s health and this week’s BWA runner-up, Bishop Daniel Jenky, comparing the President to Hitler, it is a pleasant surprise to see a strong, truly moral message from this group.

Bigot of the Week Award: April 20, Ted Nugent

20 Apr

Bigot of the Week

Some weeks it’s hard to pick a bigot from the far too many choices that present themselves. Other weeks one person easily rises (sinks?) to the award; this is one of those weeks. Washed-up rocker and gun nut Ted Nugent departed from his usual crazed rantings to engage in a hostile attack on the President followed by a racist and ignorant refusal to apologize-can we say Charm Free?

At the National Rifle Association conference last weekend, Nugent ratched up his usual attacks on the Obama administration (and Democrats in general) comparing officials to coyotes who should be shot. At the heart of his bellicose bellowing was this gem:

If Barack Obama becomes the President in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.

For a self-proclaimed patriot, those words are hypocritically close to treason–this sounds like a threat to assassinate the President to me. When rightfully skewered in the press for his rant, Nugent upped the ante by making a racist comparison to try to gain the high ground.

I spoke at the NRA and I will stand by my speech. It was 100 percent positive… See, I’m a black Jew at a Nazi-Klan rally, and there are some power-abusing corrupt monsters in our federal government that despise me because I have the audacity to speak the truth to identify the violations of our government.

This is nothing new from Nugent. While pondering a run for Michigan governor, he repeatedly attacked then-Governor Jennifer Granholm calling her “scrotumless” and shooting arrows into her picture at concerts. He has said that animal rights activists should have arrows shot through their lungs and called Fund for Animals’ Heidi Prescott a worthless whore, adding “who needs to club a seal, when you can club Heidi?” Given this history of violent rhetoric and behavior, it’s understandable that the Secret Service is taking a real interest in his latest rant. Mitt Romney, of course, whom Nugent has endorsed, remains silent on the matter.

Dishonorable mention this week goes to Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, IL. In a homily delivered last weekend, the Bishop bizarrely compared the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration’s policy on contraception and insurance to some pretty nasty company.

Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care. In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama, with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.

Sure, Bishop, a secular government ensuring care for all of its citizens (which I thought was a Christian value) is just like the horrific acts carried out by those two dictators. Exaggerating hypocrisy much? If we follow Bishop Jenky’s logic here, I’m guessing he would also compare Jesus to Hitler.

Celebrating Irene Morgan Kirkaldy

19 Apr

Before Rosa Parks there was Irene Morgan. Born in Baltimore in 1917, this bold woman helped strike an early blow against segregation. Her defiance of Jim Crow came in 1944, eleven years before the more famous act of civil disobedience by Parks. Kirkaldy, then 27, was recovering from a miscarriage and taking a long bus trip from the doctor’s office back to her home in Baltimore. She sat in the area designated for black passengers but was told by the driver to move further back to make way for a white couple. She refused and told the woman sitting next to her to do the same.

She was firm in her refusal, tearing up an arrest warrant when the sheriff was summoned and actively resisting her removal from the bus. In an interview with the Washington Post in 2000, she recounted,

I can’t see how anybody in the same circumstance could do otherwise,” Mrs. Kirkaldy told Washington Post reporter Carol Morello in 2000. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I’d paid for my seat. I was sitting where I was supposed to… [The sheriff’s deputy]  grabbed me. That’s when I kicked him in a very bad place. He hobbled off, and another one came on. He was trying to put his hands on me to get me off. I was going to bite him, but he was dirty, so I clawed him instead. I ripped his shirt. We were both pulling at each other. He said he’d use his nightstick. I said, ‘We’ll whip each other.’

After being dragged off the bus, she was thrown in jail. Mrs. Kirkaldy pleaded guilty to the charge of resisting arrest and was fined $100, but refused to plead guilty to violating Virginia’s segregation law. Her attorney argued that the law violated the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. She was adamant in her appeals, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

If something happens to you which is wrong, the best thing to do is have it corrected in the best way you can. The best thing for me to do was to go to the Supreme Court.

At this final appeal, she was successful, with a 6-to-1 decision declaring her innocence and striking down the segregation law. One of her attorneys at the final appeal was the wonderful Thurgood Marshall (another personal hero of mine), who went on to join the Court as its first African-American justice.

She said she didn’t mind the relatively little notice her achievements brought. At age 68 she received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University, and five years later she obtained a master’s degree in urban studies at Queens College. “If there’s a job to be done, you do it and get it over with and go on to the next thing,” she told the Washington Post. Feisty in the moment and quiet in her success, this pioneer for civil rights lived out most of her life in New York until her death in 2007.  I just wanted to celebrate Irene and hope many others will also fall in love with her.

Celebrating Ruth Bunzel

18 Apr

On this date in 1898, pioneering anthropologist Ruth Bunzel was born. Ruth Leah Bernheim was the youngest of four children in a German/Czech Jewish household in Manhattan. Ruth’s mother raised the children after their father died, relying on money from her family’s import business. They spoke English at home, but Ruth’s mother encouraged Ruth to study German at Barnard College. Ruth, however, changed her major because of the political atmosphere surrounding World War I and received a B.A. in European history from Barnard in 1918.

Bunzel wrote about the choices facing graduates of her day, observing that some went to Paris seeking freedom, some aligned with radical workers and sold the Daily Worker on street corners, and others sought “some answers to the ambiguities and contradictions of our age and the general enigma of human life.” She saw anthropology as a means to understand not only others but also ourselves. Having taken a course with noted anthropologist Franz Boas in college, Bunzel succeeded Esther Goldfrank as his secretary and editorial assistant at Columbia University in 1922. In 1924, she accompanied anthropologist Ruth Benedict to western New Mexico and east-central Arizona to study the Zuni people, and followed Boas’s suggestion to give up typing and begin her own research.

Critical of ethnographers who often ignored women as subjects in their fieldwork, Bunzel felt that “society consisted of more than old men with long memories.” She was drawn to the Zuni because women were the potters and had considerable societal power. Bunzel began graduate study in anthropology at Columbia University. In 1929, she received her Ph.D. with the publication of a landmark book on the artistic process, The Pueblo Potter. Rather than focusing on the objects of art, Bunzel was one of the first anthropologists to analyze artists’ feelings, their relationship to their work, and the process of creativity. To understand how artists work within the confines of traditional styles, Bunzel apprenticed herself to Zuni potters, and among them she became a respected, skilled potter.

Bunzel was a sensitive fieldworker, respecting local factionalism and esoteric ceremonies; her focus on the individual and the degree of aesthetic freedom an individual had in a given culture influenced her writing on Zuni kachina (ancestral spirit) cults and mythology, ceremonialism and religion, and poetry. She also contributed to the understanding of Zuni cosmology and social organization, values, language, culture, and personality. In addition to the Zuni, Bunzel wrote about the Hopi, Acoma, San Ildefonso, and San Felipe Pueblo Indians of the southwestern United States.

Reflecting both her interest in culture and personality studies, she also wrote a comparative study on alcoholism in Chamula in Chiapas, Mexico, and in Chichicastenango. Her research, supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship (1930–1932), looked at psychological factors that led to different patterns of drinking in the two communities. She also focused on the role alcohol played in the natives’ subjugation and how haciendas profited by keeping Indians in debt. Her study on alcoholism was the first anthropological writing on this subject.

Bunzel taught sporadically at Columbia University throughout the 1930s, but she became an adjunct professor in 1954 until her retirement in 1972. She then spent two years as a visiting professor at Bennington College. Bunzel earned a modest living teaching and felt she had never obtained full-time work because she was a woman. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, she worked with other colleagues against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  She died in 1990 of cardiac arrest. Her detailed fieldwork and writing are known for their great sensitivity and quality and remain an enduring legacy of her anthropological accomplishment. Bunzel’s valuable research and papers were donated to the National Anthropological Archives after their discovery in Colombia University’s archives in 2007.

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