Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Paris in Springtime: Justice for Joquan Wallace

Principal Gary Preston & Officer Joel McCarthy
If you walked up to me in a store, a library or a bar and told me a high school kid in Texas had recently been arrested for using the bathroom in his school, I'd be skeptical to say the least.

But according to a petition currently circulating online by Change.org by a woman named Brenda Cherry, that's exactly what happened at Paris High School in Paris, Texas to a student named Joquan Wallace.

Apparently Joquan asked and received permission from his teacher to use the can, which he did. Only a school police officer named Joel McCarthy (pictured above) who, like the student, is also African-American, followed him in there and then questioned him outside in the hall about why he hadn't used a bathroom closer to his classroom. Joquan explained that he had to sit rather than stand and preferred to use the other bathroom to do his business; plus he had permission from his teacher.

Apparently officer McCarthy wasn't having it. The incident escalated after McCarthy followed Joquan back to his class and ordered him to go to the office and Joquan refused. Eventually the school principal Gary Preston (pictured above left) joined McCarthy in trying to force Joquan to the office and the student ended up being assaulted by both men.

The assault was witnessed by numerous students as principal Preston and officer McCarthy tried to put Joquan in a head lock and slammed him against the wall of the classroom multiple times. Check out both Joquan's statement about the incident as well as multiple quotes from students who witnessed the assault on The Paris Texas Chronicle Home blog.

Joquan  ended up in the emergency room with injuries from the incident, neither the officer or the principal did, but that didn't stop them from claiming the student had assaulted them and arresting the kid, charging him with two felonies and sending him to the police station where he was locked up.

We're not talking about some juvenile criminal thug here. By all accounts Joquan Wallace was well-behaved, quiet, a good student, has only been tardy twice the entire year, has no record of any kind of violence or disruptive behavior and also excelled at track and football. He apparently was a good enough athlete to be in line for a few college scholarship opportunities; but that's now in doubt as he was expelled from school for the remainder of the year and cannot march at graduation with his sister.

Back on March 23rd this blog focused on disturbing Department of Education statistics that show evidence of wide disparities in how much harsher disciplinary measures are meted out to students of color on a far more frequent basis of race by teachers and administrators than to their white counterparts for the same offenses.

"Enlightened" right-wing thinkers (contradiction in terms anyone?) like Heather MacDonald would trip over themselves in an effort dismiss such statistical evidence as presented by the DOE wholesale in favor of regurgitating ingrained age-old stereotypical assumptions of black male behavior to justify how many students like Joquan are treated.

But to do otherwise would contradict the perceptions they've been raised with and taught in America; and as we know these days right-wing conservatives in the US are never ones to allow truth, facts or history get in the way of their own perceptions.

But the positive side of the bizarre account of Joquan Wallace is that the behavior of an administrator like Gary Preston and a police officer like Joel McCarthy (in terms of their violent response to a student they accused unfairly) is exposed for exactly what it is.

The story has blown up on the Internet and gone global; and the pressure is building.

As I stated in the beginning of this blog entry, there's a petition to Gary D. Young the attorney of Lamar County and Paul Jones, the superintendent of the Paris Independent School District to drop the felony charges against the young Mr. Wallace and let him graduate. So take a couple minutes and follow the link to the Change.org petition to add your name.

It's already gotten 161,021 signatures from people around the world, lend your voice to make a difference in a promising young man's life. This is America, and no one regardless of religion, race, nationality or sexual orientation should be charged with two felonies for using the school bathroom.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Bigotry Goes Mainstream - Gauging "The Look"

The Donald
If LA Clipper's owner Donald Sterling (pictured left) wasn't much of a household name outside of the Los Angeles area before TMZ released an audio tape of his disturbing racist rant, he's certainly getting his fifteen minutes worth these days.

With people from Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to the President weighing in, the story has shot right to the front of domestic news issues; as it should. It's past time the mainstream media put the spotlight on the prevalence of intolerance and racism in 21st century America.

The depth of the real estate magnate's entrenched bigotry and total contempt (and fear) of men of color is as distasteful as it is repugnant. But it's also really weird; judge for yourself, I posted a five-minute excerpt of the conversation to the right.

If, as the tapes suggest, Sterling was so incensed by the mere idea of his then-girlfriend (who is Mexican and African-American by the way) being seen or photographed with African-American men; why would he own an NBA franchise?

Obviously Sterling's views didn't just materialize out of thin air, clearly his prickly perspective was shaped and learned at an early age. But his views have manifested themselves in his professional life before. As Forbes sports business writer Kurt Badenhausen reported on Saturday, Sterling was sued by the Justice Department back in 2006 for refusing to rent apartments to Hispanics and African-Americans in the Koreatown section of LA; he settled the lawsuit for $2.7 million.

What weirds me out is the paternalistic and archaic tone he uses to talk about black people; whom he has clearly reduced to one giant all-encompassing stereotype that reveals a detached perspective warped by his own internalized prejudices.

He's right on par with law-breaking Nevada rancher Clive Bundy, whom conservatives quickly embraced as a hero-figure despite his kooky beliefs that black people would be better off enslaved; maybe Clive can be the featured speaker at the next Republican National Convention.

I mean if Clint Eastwood can talk to an empty chair for fifteen minutes on live national television, why not have Clive bring one of his cows fattened on the taxpayer's dime up on stage? He could do nifty cowboy rope tricks while he talks to the cow about the non-existence of the Federal government and the advantages of enslaving black people. I'd watch that. 

But seriously, this is a great country and I firmly believe the vast majority of Americans, regardless of race, religion or nationality, are decent folk. Lord knows none of us are perfect and some get a little more mixed up than others; but at the core this is a nation of pretty decent people.

But the truth is there are some Sterlings and Bundys roaming around out there across the vast expanse of the United States; many of whom will slip by unnoticed by the spotlight of the media - but not by those who recognize them.

My brother called me from the airport in Jackson, Mississippi the other day. He was one of the over 500 participants (educators, policy professionals and academic leaders) gathered at Jackson State University last Thursday for the annual COSEBOC (Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color) conference.

My brother, who was there to lead a workshop at the conference, told me he was sitting in the lobby of the local hotel where a number of conference participants were staying, and he was with a co-worker doing some work on his laptop. He noticed two heavyset white men who strolled into the lobby staring at him while they talked.

Now they weren't just glancing at him either; they were staring unflinchingly, giving my brother "the look." For those of you who might not be aware, "the look" is a silent tool used by people who harbor prejudices to let you know what they think of you. It's often used by people who feel compelled to share their prejudices with those they don't like.

It's not exclusive to black people by any means. I have Asian and Jewish friends who recognize "the look" too. Stop in some place where some locals don't think you belong; you may get "the look." There's a "glance" too, but it's more wimpy than "the look" and to he honest, I have more respect for someone who gives me "the look" versus just the glance.

I mean if you're going to despise a complete stranger just because of the color of my skin, or how I worship, or dress or where I come from, it takes some real balls (and no small amount ignorance) to just flat out stare at someone with the deadpan, slightly contemptuous expression that defines "the look."

My brother said he saw quite a bit of that in Mississippi last week. It's not exclusive to any one geographic area either; I get "the look" in the grocery store in Hamilton, New Jersey quite often. My office is in Hamilton and I usually do my food shopping at lunchtime because the grocery stores are close by and they're really nice. Spacious aisles, good deli, decent bakery, good selection of brands and a big pharmacy too. True one stop shopping.

But Hamilton, while a very nice community, is home to not a few people who's perspectives on black people were shaped by their (or their relative's) experiences in Trenton, NJ when jobs grew scarce, the tax base shrank, neighborhoods began to slip, impoverished pockets expanded - and crime increased.

Now I didn't grow up in Trenton mind you. Nor did anyone in my family for that matter. But sometimes, when I'm pushing my cart along, dressed professionally for work, minding my own business in the grocery store; I'll get "the look" out of nowhere.

Some old lady lingering by the eggs, an old guy inspecting loaves of bread - I'll notice them just staring at me. Not moving, not lost in thought - just staring at me with "the look" as if I am a physical  manifestation of some old memory lingering inside their minds.

I just walk on past, because as Ralph Ellison so eloquently observed, I know that I am invisible to them. They don't see the me who writes these words. They don't know where I work, or where I come from or anything about my family. They don't know I love science fiction, have a cat, or that I can play guitar and read music.

They only know the color of my skin and they can only see what that represents to them. So I'm not bothered by "the look" from the occasional clerk who rings up my groceries (I'm big on the self checkout line) because like Clive Bundy and Donald Sterling they see something that isn't there it all.

It's just a mental compendium made up of the things they observed as children, or were taught by their parents and peers, or absorbed from images in films or television - things that were reinforced by policies, or jokes or invisible boundaries.

They see skin color, or an article of clothing, or an inflection in voice and it activates their compendium - and all they can do is "look."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Supremes Keep Chipping Away

For some Americans, today's news about the Supreme Court ruling affirming the state of Michigan's right to ban the consideration of race as a factor in college admissions has unsettling consequences.

But for others, including no small number of black conservative Americans, the decision is a welcome one.

Regardless of your stance on the issue you can bet it's all high-fives and celebratory smiles over at the offices of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The broader efforts by ALEC to conceive of, draft and disseminate "sample" legislation models for state legislators in Republican-controlled states as a means to specifically target minority access to higher education, the voting process and even health care raises a lot of questions.

Part of what troubles me about today's ruling is that the Supreme Court has essentially ruled that individual states have a right to vote on public ballot initiatives that undermine Federal law shaped by previous Supreme Court decisions; in the case of today's ruling Federal remedies intended to ensure some sense of fairness in determining guidelines on access to higher education.

And let's be honest here, are the state ballot initiatives like Michigan's Proposal 2 really intended because it's been proven that American students now have equal access to higher education regardless of religion, race, nationality or sexual orientation and that there are no more discriminatory practices in college admissions?

Or is the Michigan college admissions mandate a reflection of a much deeper shift in the tone of this country fueled by a palpable undercurrent of resentment towards the presence of a two-term African American president in the White House?

Is the ruling on the mandate timed to polarize voters ahead of the upcoming mid-term elections?

And what's going to be the impact on minority high school students in Michigan who want to go to college but come from under-served school districts or less affluent surroundings?

Statistics from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) analysis of college enrollment rates for African-Americans and Hispanics after the passing of California Proposition 209 in 1996 (also known as the California Civil Rights Initiative or CCRI) offers some insight.

According to Wikipedia CCRI "amended the state constitution to prohibit state government institutions from considering race, sex and ethnicity, specifically in the areas of public employment, public contracting and public education."

IPEDS data demonstrates that after Prop 209 was passed in 1996, enrollment for African-American students in California's 4-year public college system (CSU) declined by 15% and there was a 10.3% decline for Hispanic students. The enrollment drops were even more pronounced for California's university (UC) system; there was a 21.3% decline for African-American students and a 12.7% decline for Hispanics after Prop 209 was passed.

Some experts argued Prop 209 removed many students who were unprepared for college and hence was better overall for minority graduation rates. But I'm not an expert on affirmative action and the merits of CCRI can't simply be reduced to stats on minority enrollment at public colleges and universities.

Proposal 2 was passed seven years ago in Michigan and as the New York Times reports today, there has been a 25% decrease in the overall minority population of college students in the state even while the number of minorities who've reached the age to attend college is up.

But what's this going to mean to the people of Michigan? What does this mean for minority students who may grow up in economically disadvantaged circumstances and attend a sub-par public school but still want the chance to attend college?

The Supreme Court really ducked that question today. Justice Kennedy was of course eloquent in his reasoning in writing the majority opinion for the Court in which he stated (in part) the decision was not about the merits of affirmative action in college admissions, but rather that the Court did not have a Constitutional right to over-ride the will of an individual state mandate voted upon by the citizens of Michigan.

By doing so the Court gave a green light to ALEC and other deep-pocketed conservative groups like Americans For Prosperity and True The Vote to use the vast amounts of untraceable money they collect from groups and people who can remain totally anonymous to initiate more ballot initiatives sponsored by Republican state legislators - then in turn saturate local media with misleading commercials to encourage citizens to support these frequently disguised initiatives; thanks in no small part to the Supreme Court's rulings in the Citizens United case and of course much more recently McCutcheon v. FEC (Federal Election Commission).

In short, six members of the Supreme Court punked out on this one. They avoided their responsibility to weigh in on the Constitutional merits of affirmative action in the 21st century.

Like Pontious Pilate the 6-2 majority (Justice Kagan recused herself from the case) washed their hands of an important decision that was in their purview to make - cases like this are the very reasons we have a Supreme Court judiciary.

Instead, the Roberts Court left a matter of critical importance (equal access to higher education) up to the masses of Michigan's populace, who in the complex area of affirmative action, are arguably less informed by reason and an in-debt understanding of the issue, than they are ignited by passion generated around the perception of the issue.

A perception more often shaped by inflammatory rhetoric and misunderstanding than by qualified academics, balanced statistical analysis or history. Only time will tell how the decision to uphold Proposal 2 and its affect on access to higher education will impact the lives of people in Michigan; but in the meantime what happens to those students outside the majority who live in a single parent household in Detroit or Flint and dream of going to college?

On that the Supreme Court majority is far more ambiguous than they are about their own personal political leanings and how it affects the way they interpret the Constitution.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Justice for Jessica and Kelli Uhl - Add Your Signature to a Petition to Prevent a Negligent Ex-State Trooper From Ever Driving Again

Kelli (left) & Jessica Uhl (right)
Over the years I've focused a number of blog entries on members of law enforcement whose actions have caused the deaths of innocent people. I'm not "anti-cop". As a child I was taught that America is a nation bound by laws that govern our behavior for the safety and well being of all, and that no one, especially police officers, is above those laws.

So on this Good Friday as many of us make plans to gather together with family this weekend for the Easter and Passover holidays, let's take a few moments to remember the lives of eighteen year-old Jessica Uhl and her thirteen year-old sister Kelli (pictured left); two members of our collective human family who lost their lives needlessly because of the overt negligence of a former Illinois State Trooper named Matthew Mitchell.

On the day after Thanksgiving back on November 23, 2007, Jessica and Kelli were on their way home from visiting their father and stepmother driving along Interstate 64 in their mother's white Mazda near O'Fallon, Illinois. The heavy I-64 traffic was packed with drivers traveling home from the holiday, as well as shoppers getting the jump on Black Friday sales.

In the opposite lanes of I-64 Trooper Matthew Mitchell was on duty in his marked Chevy Impala Illinois State Police cruiser doing a 126 mph. Now many of you reading this have likely been on an American highway on the day after Thanksgiving, so I want you to picture someone doing 126 mph in that kind of traffic.

Records show that Mitchell, who'd had SEVEN previous car crashes on-duty during his six-year tenure as a State Trooper, was on a cell phone talking with his girlfriend about a bike she'd purchased AND he was also using the computer mounted on the dashboard of his cruiser to send and receive non-work related e-mails moments before he became distracted, lost control of his vehicle, crossed the median strip of I-64 and slammed head-on into Jessica and Kelli's vehicle.

The impact killed both of the Uhl sisters, injured a pregnant woman and her husband in another vehicle and severely damaged Mitchell's legs. In the aftermath of the accident, Mitchell claimed to have been speeding because he was headed to the scene of an accident 22 miles away in Lebanon.

But records show that at least six minutes before the accident, a police radio dispatcher had already reported that local emergency services units close to Lebanon had already responded to the scene of the accident Mitchell claimed to have been speeding to - so he wasn't even needed there.

Mitchell was found guilty of two felony counts of reckless homicide and two counts of aggravated reckless driving and was forced to resign from the Illinois State Police. According to Kim Schlau, the mother of Jessica and Kelli, Mitchell has never shown remorse for the accident and even tried to file a workman's compensation claim with the state to compensate him at the taxpayer's expense for the leg injuries he suffered as a result of his own negligence.

Mitchell's license was revoked for 24 months after his convictions, and at each subsequent hearing, Jessica and Kelli's mom Kim, their father Brian and their younger sister Maddy show up to testify to prevent Matthew Mitchell from ever having his driving license reinstated. If you've ever been behind one of those drivers going too slow on the road or weaving slightly (how about the morons who don't move when the light turns because they're texting?) you know what a distraction it can be.

It proved deadly to Jessica and Kelli and according to data from the CDC, nine drivers a day are killed in the US as a result of someone being distracted by a cell phone in a vehicle.

So I hope you will take a couple minutes to click this link and visit the Change.org Website and add your signature to a petition calling on the Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to deny Matthew Mitchell the chance to get his drivers license back.

Kim Schlau blogs at Parachuting Without a Net and she also travels around the country to speak to police officers about the dangers and impact of distracted driving. She's also established a college scholarship fund in her daughter's names, the Jessica & Kelli Uhl Memorial Foundation, that's helped eight high school students attend college, follow this link for more information on the foundation. 

Matthew Mitchell may not show remorse over what he did and we can't change what happened, but we can make sure he never gets behind the wheel again. If he hadn't been an Illinois State Trooper he'd be in jail right now.




Sunday, April 13, 2014

Isaiah Washington Quietly Returns to Grey's Anatomy - More Low Ball Politics in Florida

Isaiah Washington as Dr. Preston Burke
When actor Isaiah Washington was forced off the ABC hospital television dramady 'Grey's Anatomy' in 2007 it made big headlines in part because of the popularity of his character Dr. Preston Burke and also because of the actor's controversial comments about a co-star.

During the fall of 2006 he had an on-set argument with co-star Patrick Dempsey (who plays "McDreamy") and used a homophobic slur in reference to co-star T. R Knight (who plays George).

The incident prompted Knight to publicly announce he was gay in October, 2006 and ABC executives removed Washington from the show before the season finale when accusations that the network was tolerating homophobia gained traction in the media and Washington repeated the slur during a backstage interview at the Golden Globe Awards while trying to explain the incident to the press.

It struck me as interesting that the recent news that Washington will be returning to 'Grey's Anatomy' in May to reprise his role as Dr. Burke received far less media scrutiny than his controversial departure did. It was barely a blurb in the Deals section of a recent March issue of the 'Hollywood Reporter'.

Despite the fact that Washington released a public statement apologizing for the slur back in 2006-2007, offered to explain his side of the story in a televised interview and even recorded a public service commercial spot for GLAAD, the pressure from gay-rights advocates at the time and the negative press was too much and he was sacked. According to reports, even seven years later Washington is receiving some negative comments on social media because of his return to the show.

His return coincides with actress Sandra Oh leaving the show at the end of this season and while 'Grey's Anatomy' is still hugely popular, it's not the ratings smash it once was for ABC and it is in its 10th season. Certainly high-profile public figures are held to a much higher degree of responsibility when it comes to comments that are perceived as bigoted, sexist, racist or homophobic and they should be held accountable.

But I can't help but get the sense that the entertainment industry still finds itself particularly uneasy where African-American actors, especially those considered sex symbols, are concerned. Going back to 1957 when Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn famously dispatched mobster Johnny Roselli to kidnap Sammy Davis, Jr.  and warn him about his relationship with actress Kim Novak when she was under contract to Columbia.

The leading mainstream roles for male African-American actors on prime time network television in America are generally few and far between - but the roles on hit television shows, rarer still.

Bill Cosby broke barriers when he was cast as Alexander Scott on the espionage drama 'I Spy' alongside Robert Culp on NBC in 1965. Cosby won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Continued Performance By An Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series for three straight years, 1966 - 1968.

Those actors of color who do get the opportunity to play characters considered sex symbols are even more rare on network television. It's interesting how good the physicians role has been for black male television actors; and while NBC isn't perfect they deserve credit for some of their casting choices.

Cosby helped reinvigorate NBC (and the television sitcom) as Dr. Cliff Huxtable with the highly successful 'The Cosby Show' from 1984 - 1992. Two-time Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington broke through as a sex symbol as Dr. Phillip Chandler on the ground-breaking and highly acclaimed hospital drama 'St Elsewhere' which aired on NBC from 1982 - 1988. Even amongst a highly talented cast, Denzel stood out for his exceptional on-screen presence, above-average acting ability and non-conventional (for Hollywood anyway...) good looks and sex appeal. Blair Underwood was certainly a television sex symbol (albeit as an attorney) on NBC's 'LA Law' which ran from 1986 to 1992.

It's more than fair to say that Isaiah Washington, owes much to Denzel Washington and while there is a similarity in manner, looks and on-screen presence, the former has faced a much rockier career path; in no small part due to his own choices. But I'm a 'Grey's Anatomy' fan and I'm happy he's coming back and who knows? No one likes a comeback story more than Hollywood. Just ask Robert Downey, Jr.  

So to wrap up, I know I gripe about voter suppression a lot on this blog, but hey; it's voter suppression. Did you read that the Miami-Dade County Elections Department ruled that all bathrooms at public polling sites will be closed to voters?

When I read the article on ThinkProgress.org I could only shake my head. The state of Florida seems to have absolutely no boundaries when it comes to ethics, Democracy and the rule of law. This was the state where lines during the 2012 Presidential elections made for waits of up to six hours for people to vote in majority Democratic districts; now they want to scare voters off by closing the bathrooms too? Really?

What's next in Florida? Setting dogs loose on voters who vote Democratic? Pathetic.

And let's not even start on the Stand Your Ground Laws in the Sunshine State; which basically seem to be a green light to shoot and kill unarmed African-Americans. Did you hear about the prison guard in Florida who beat the crap out of a prison inmate then used the Stand Your Ground Law as defense against assault charges? Sunshine State indeed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Taibbi Tackles the Inequities of America's Two-Tiered Society - Heidi Klum in 'Red-Face'?

Journalist-author Matt Taibbi
As the most unproductive and heartless US Congress in American history gears up to block a Senate bill to restore unemployment benefits to over 3 million members of the long-term unemployed, it's not hard to feel discouraged by the steady un-Democratization of this nation.

This week a private research study shows that in 2013, US corporations held a staggering $2.1 trillion in profits overseas to avoid paying taxes at a time when they're making record profits at home, flailing about the evils of raising the minimum wage and being coy about starting to rehire Americans on a large scale. 

On top of that we discover the cash reserves of the nations largest banks are underfunded by billions of dollars a mere six years after the financial meltdown of 2008 - and we all know who was on the hook for that one - and who was let off the hook.

Lately the conservative members of the Roberts Supreme Court are making it seem less a politically autonomous branch of the Federal government dedicated to interpreting the Constitution, than a disassociated bunch of cranky old farts perpetually stuck in the intellectually-nonsensical ideological bubble of the Fox News world.  

Case in point (bad pun intended): the high court's recent decision to further undermine the Democratic process in this nation by making it more difficult to define political corruption, while simultaneously making it easier for wealthy political donors to pour enormous sums of money into the election process.

And remember, that's after they struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, essentially making it easier for state legislatures to make it harder for citizens to vote.

But just when things look bleak, Matt Taibbi cuts through the fog with his signature blend of relentless hard-hitting journalism. On Monday I heard an interesting interview with Taibbi on NPR as he discussed his latest book, "The Great Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap".

Click the link above and give it a listen if you've got a few minutes. In the past couple years his essays in Rolling Stone have taken on the issues that the mainstream media has totally shied away from; topics like the deep-seated corruption within the US and global financial system, the complexities of the LIBOR scandal, the rigging of commodities markets, the mortgage crisis and the implosion of the housing market and of course, the massive inequities in the US justice system.

Taibbi said after spending years on topics related to the financial meltdown, he was personally struck over how difficult it seemed to be to bring any individual from the corporate or banking sector to trial or jail time; yet it was and is frighteningly easy to jail someone for welfare fraud, possessing small amounts of illegal drugs - or simply for no reason at all beyond an over-zealous police force, lack of access to legal counsel, overwhelmed public defenders' offices and prosecutors seemingly determined to keep US prisons filled with non-violent offenders.

To borrow a quote from the new book cited in the NPR article about Taibbi:
"Poverty goes up. Crime goes down. The prison population doubles. Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world's wealth. The rich get massively richer. No one goes to jail."

Don't hold your breath waiting for CNN, NBC, ABC, FOX or CBS to broach that topic on prime-time news. Outside of Frontline and Bill Moyers on PBS and Vice on HBO, mainstream media doesn't see the biggest story in this nation as much of a story at all. That's just sad; and unfortunately not unintentional. Bread and Circuses...

Anyway, to some lighter fare. Now let me just say first that I have no axe to grind with super model turned fashion show host and arbiter of good taste Heidi Klum. I've a seen a few episodes of Project Runway, and she's pretty sharp and has a good sense of humor in a no-nonsense German kind-of-way.

So what the hell was she thinking promoting a Germany's Next Top Model photo shoot featuring hot young German frauleins posing in 'Red-Face' in Native American costumes and scenarios?

As ThinkProgress.com reports Klum is receiving flack on her Facebook page, social media platforms and from a host of Websites and blogs for lending her name, face and reputation to this ill-advised promotional campaign that incorporates Native American stereotypes and imagery.

Given Germany's ongoing struggle to move beyond the dark legacy of the Third Reich and its institutionalized racism before and during World War II that led to millions of deaths, how could Klum not know what a disaster a group of young German girls dressing up as provocative little Indian-sex kittens would be? Och! Heidi!

It really hasn't been a good PR month for Germany.

The April issue of Vanity Fair Magazine features Alex Shoumatoff's brilliant expose article on the recent trove of over 1,280 artworks originally stolen and confiscated from Jewish families, art dealers and collectors (fleeing Germany or sent to the camps from Germany and France) in WWII that ended up in the Munich apartment of a strange German recluse named Cornelius Gurlitt.

Seriously, you really have to read this Vanity Fair article to gain some insight on this monumental art theft. Gurlitt's father was an art dealer for the Nazis and helped to broker the sales of thousands of pieces of art Hitler labeled "degenerate". Gurlitt's apartment was packed with an estimated billion dollars worth of priceless art by a range of master painters including Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin, Dix and more.

One of the most interesting tidbits from the article: cosmetic billionaire Ronald Lauder, who's supported efforts to return looted art to the original Jewish owners for years, claims the German government has housed tens of thousands of pieces of looted art in the basements and vaults of it's museums since the end of the War; knowing full well where they came from. 

It's a rather disturbing read, but an enlightening one as well that lends insight into a crime against humanity which in many ways, is still going on to this day.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Utter Stupidity at Sea

Eric, Lyra (1) Charlotte & Cora (3) Kaufman - (Photo-AP)
By now thousands of people across the world have directed irate online comments at Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, the parents of a one year-old daughter named Lyra and a three year-old daughter named Cora. (pictured left)

The Kaufman's are making headlines for their ill-advised decision to make a 6,914 mile journey across the southern Pacific Ocean from the western coast of Mexico to New Zealand.

It's one thing to take your one and three year-old daughters to New Zealand, but putting them aboard a 36-foot sailboat for a journey across the open ocean that can take months strikes me as one of the dumbest f---ing things I've ever heard of.

While I can certainly admire the skill and preparation it takes for professional sailors or adventurers to undertake a dangerous crossing of the Pacific in a 36-foot sailboat, the idea of two parents putting a 1 year-old baby and her 3 year old sister on the boat is questionable decision making at best, and a delusional parenting choice that borders on neglect at worst.

The Kaufman's are defending their decision after issuing a distress call 900 miles off the coast of Mexico when they lost the ability to steer their boat and had to be rescued by a coordinated effort involving the US Coast Guard, the California Air National Guard and the US Navy. As the NY Times reported their 1 year-old Lyra had a fever and was covered in rashes - who takes a baby on any kind of trip less than two weeks after being infected with Salmonella?

I'm not an adventurer or anything, but I was a Boy Scout for years. I've hiked, spent two weeks living in a tent, repelled off cliffs, done cold weather camping in winter, been spelunking deep into caves in the hills of West Virginia and gone on extended canoe trips down rivers. I've been snorkeling in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Costa Rica and I learned to scuba dive in the Bahamas. I've been sailing in the Atlantic with people who'd spent years on the water.

The one thing all those experiences had in common was that there was always extensive preparation before setting out, knowledge of the terrain and weather conditions, exhaustive reviews of safety measures and procedures, careful practice with and knowledge of all equipment and we NEVER took unnecessary risks. The idea of taking a 1 and 3 year-old into such a dangerous condition? Absurd.

I definitely think children should learn to experience the outdoors as soon as they're able to, and under the proper supervision. ALL children should learn to swim.

But I loose patience with people who take stupid risks because they arrogantly think it's cool or that they're somehow immune to the power of nature. People who make decisions like that and involve young children are liable for prosecution as far as I'm concerned.

 Nature is beautiful but it can turn on you FAST and smart people respect it. Lakes, streams and rivers are beautiful and should be enjoyed; but they can turn deadly if circumstances go bad. If you've ever been caught in an undertow current within sight of the shore, or know someone who drowned in a creek, you understand the immense power of water; and how quickly it can take a life.

But the ocean is a whole different ball game as the Kaufmans learned; and members of the Coast Guard, Air National Guard and Navy risked their lives to save them.

There's a lot of things going on in the world worth blogging about, but parents endangering their own children to satisfy some kind of lust for adventure or attention?

That's the worst kind of stupidity: the kind that could have been avoided in the first place.